WASHINGTON — Americans are increasingly anxious about the nation’s economy as the Bush administration gets under way, according to an Associated Press poll. Faith in the stock market as a safe place to put money has dropped as well.
Only a third of Americans expect their family finances to be better in a year, said the AP Poll – a big drop from last spring when more than half felt that way. And more than half now say if they had a thousand dollars, it would be a bad idea to put it in the stock market. A strong majority said last spring that they would invest the money.
By a 57-39 margin, women now feel that investing the money would be a bad idea, while men are about evenly split, according to the AP survey, which was conducted by ICR of Media, Pa.
“No way, things are too shaky,” said Delores Sapeta, a 72-year-old retiree from Middletown, in north central California.
“I might have been willing to invest it maybe a year or two ago,” said Charles Odom, a 32-year-old paint contractor from North Wilkesboro in western North Carolina. “Now the market goes up, then it drops right back down.”
Just over two in 10 Americans have a lot of confidence in Bush’s ability to deal with the economy, the poll indicated, while just over four in 10 have some confidence and almost three in 10 have no real confidence. That’s similar to the public’s confidence in President-elect Clinton eight years ago. The number with no confidence in Bush on the economy is slightly higher than the one in eight who felt that way about President-elect Reagan in 1980.
The confidence shown in Bush’s ability to handle the economy closely follows partisan lines. Just over half of Republicans said they have a lot of confidence in Bush on the economy, while almost half of Democrats have no confidence.
Just under a fourth of independents said they have a lot of confidence and half said they have some confidence, while a fourth have no confidence in Bush to handle the economy. Half of black Americans said they have no confidence, and just over a third of those who make less then $50,000 felt that way.
Economic reports that could cause nervousness have been mounting:
• Retailers just announced they had their weakest holiday sales in a decade.
• Worries about future job growth and the economy pushed consumer confidence in December to its lowest level in two years.
• The Federal Reserve unexpectedly lowered a key interest rate this month.
Many in the public have noticed such developments.
“It looks like my family finances are going to be worse in a year,” said Kimberly Armstrong, a 25-year-old mother of two young children from Louisville, Ky. “I get that feeling from the news reports, from technology stocks going down. ...”
Entering this uncertain economic climate will be Bush, who has cautioned several times that he’s seen signs of economic trouble on the horizon.
As he prepares for the presidency, just over half in this poll, 52 percent, said they approve of the way he’s handling the transition, while about a third, 31 percent, said they do not approve. That’s slightly lower than the six in 10 Americans who approved of President-elect Clinton’s transition at a similar point eight years ago.
“In the sense that he seems to be picking people, with a couple of exceptions, who are qualified to take the Cabinet positions, I think he’s doing a fairly good job in the transition,” said Cliff Reynolds, a 53-year-old high school science teacher from Parker, Colo., just southeast of Denver. “I don’t have much confidence in his abilities to take us through the next four years, but it appears he has selected some good people.”
A plurality in the poll, 46 percent, said they felt the country is on the wrong track, while 41 percent said it is headed in the right direction. Late last year, the situation was about reversed, with a plurality saying the country was headed in the right direction.
Republicans felt the country was going in the right direction by a 2-1 margin, Democrats felt at least as strongly that it was on the wrong track. Only 38 percent of independents felt the country was headed in the right direction, with 47 percent saying it was on the wrong track.
That public response can reflect varying concerns, from anxiety about the country’s economic health, to troubles overseas to the moral direction of the country.
Armstrong, of Louisville, said her role as a mother influences her concern that the country is not on track.
“Things are definitely headed in the wrong direction, morally speaking,” she said. “Things are just out of control.”