WASHINGTON — Slightly more than half of Americans think the sickly U.S. economy has stabilized, and almost three in every four think it will take longer than six months for a massive economic stimulus program to be felt, an Ipsos-McClatchy tracking poll showed Wednesday.
And a separate survey released Wednesday by Ipsos, done for the Royal Bank of Canada, showed the first significant boost in consumer confidence since September, when the global financial crisis erupted.
Results from both polls are sure to be welcome news to President Barack Obama and his Treasury Department, which has spent the past two months working round the clock in an effort to reverse the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The Ipsos/McClatchy tracking poll found that 52 percent of Americans now think the U.S. economy has stabilized. That's well up from the 35 percent who felt that just four weeks earlier.
"That's a 17-point bump. It's congruent with what were kind of seeing . . . people are feeling at least that the bottom has bottomed out I guess, and at least were stabilizing," said Clifford Young, an Ipsos spokesman.
Only one in three Americans thought the worst of the economic crisis is still to come, compared to 57 percent last month.
And in another bit of good news, 72 percent of poll respondents expected the $787 billion economic stimulus package to show results in a period beyond six months. It suggests that the Obama administration's plea for patience seems to have created expectations for a recovery over a longer horizon.
"I think that would be consistent with the reports we are seeing out of the economy that are now popularly called these 'green shoots.' There is no doubt that there is less bad news around, unemployment aside, that would be consistent with consumers thinking things are not going to get worse," said James Dunigan, the managing director of investment for PNC Wealth Management in Pittsburgh.
Among the "green shoots" of a recovery are lower mortgage rates, which have prompted new refinancing and some growth in new home purchases. Other boosts to consumer confidence include lower gasoline prices, some reduction of payroll taxes as part of the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress and tax rebates going out ahead of the April 15 filing deadline.
That's not to say that there aren't risks ahead, not the least of which is that credit markets remain tight and lending restrained. The Treasury Department by month's end will have completed stress tests on the country's 19 largest banks, and the results could lead to new concern about the banking sector.
And in the coming weeks, the Obama administration will implement its program to co-invest in the so-called toxic assets. If that doesn't go well, it could lead to more uncertainty.
For all the bright spots, there was one sobering number in the latest reading of the tracking poll, which is a measure of periodic shifts in opinion.
When asked to rate Obama on a number of fronts, 61 percent give him an "A" or "B" for his performance on diplomatic issues. Only 47 percent give him such marks on his handling of the economy, which could be a reflection of citizen anger over Wall Street rescue programs and the controversial decision to pay tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives at insurer American International Group.
Some 30 percent of respondents gave Obama unsatisfactory marks on his handling of the economy in the latest survey, up from 26 percent during the previous tracking period.
The Ipsos-McClatchy poll also confirmed the finding of several other mainstream surveys that Obama's popularity ratings break along political lines. Some 91 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats approved Obama's job performance. For respondents who identified themselves as Republicans, only 26 percent gave Obama high marks, while 57 percent of respondents who called themselves independents gave him favorable ratings.
Also released on Wednesday by Ipsos, the RBC CASH Index Survey pointed to some encouraging signs on the economy. The index measures consumer attitudes and spending by household, and the April survey found the first significant improvement since September. The index stood at 38.3 percent, an improvement of 30.1 points from the March reading of just 8.2 percent.
As part of that survey, the expectations index showed significant improvement too, up 58.3 points to 32.4 points, from the negative 25.9 points observed in March.
There's been a steady stream of bad news since last September, and month-by-month through March, when the RBC Cash Index set new lows for consumer confidence.
"However, either through the efforts of government and business to correct the situation or from consumers' own weary acceptance of their new, diminished, circumstances — consumer confidence . . . has shown a significant improvement for the first time in half a year," the survey's authors concluded. "This increase is also bolstered by the continuing improvements in confidence in real estate and hopefully marks the start of a trend marking improved consumer confidence."
These are some of the findings of a McClatchy-Ipsos poll conducted April 2-6. For the survey, a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,138 adults age 18 and older across the U.S. was interviewed. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 2.91 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would've been had the entire U.S. adult population been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to, coverage error and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to Census figures. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.
The RBC Consumer Study was conducted April 2-6, and 1,000 adults were interviewed nationwide. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
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