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Americans Overwhelmingly Pessimistic About Economy, Want Congress to Act

New GW Poll Also Examines 2014 Campaign Tactics, Role of Government

December 18, 2014
Jason Shevrin: [email protected], 202-994-5631
John Brandt: [email protected], 202-994-3199
WASHINGTON (Dec. 18, 2014)—Americans continue to hold strong negative views about the state of the economy and a grim outlook for the next generation’s financial prospects, according to a new George Washington University Battleground Poll. 
Americans are uncertain about the direction of the economy: 77 percent of poll respondents are at least somewhat worried about current economic conditions. The nationwide poll of registered voters also found that 31 percent of respondents think the economy is getting worse and another 25 percent say that the economy is poor and staying the same. Just 11 percent say the economy is good and staying the same and 30 percent believe the economy is getting better. 
The electorate views the economy as the most important issue facing the incoming Congress (29 percent). Among priority issues for lawmakers in 2015, it ranked ahead of illegal immigration (15 percent), health care (12 percent) and foreign threats (9 percent). 
“Two years into Obama’s second term, the American public is worried and highly pessimistic about the state of the economy and the prospects of improvement for the next generation,” said Christopher Arterton, GW professor of political management and director of the GW Battleground Poll.  "When the new Congress convenes in January, voters want the politicians in Washington to address this issue above all else."
The poll, conducted in partnership with The Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners, also found Americans are conflicted about the role of the government in assisting its citizens. A majority is open to expanding the role of government, with 52 percent saying the government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people. However, 48 percent of the public said that the federal government should get out of the way of the free market to help people succeed. 
“While low turnout, a bad map, the six-year itch and the lingering effects of GOP-controlled redistricting were the major factors at play in the 2014 election, Democrats were further hurt by not articulating a bold economic agenda for the country that went beyond piecemeal policy proposals,” said pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. “And yet, this data reveals that the core tenet of the Democratic Party—the belief that government exists to help Americans overcome challenges that would otherwise be insurmountable—also reflects the view of the majority of voters in this country. Democrats must fashion, hone and then campaign on an economic plan sufficient to the challenge at hand, or risk more election nights as dismal as the last one.”
Half of those surveyed said that the government should engage in fairer and tougher enforcement of government regulations, with 43 percent saying that fewer regulations are needed. The same amount of respondents also said the government is doing too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals. 
Despite its concerns with the role of the government, most Americans say that the next presidential election should focus on the issues facing the country (49 percent) rather than engaging in a debate over government’s place in society (37 percent). The poll also showed an undercurrent of distrust of government at the federal and state level. The majority of respondents say they only trust the federal government (59 percent) and state government (51 percent) “some of the time.”
“Republicans should feel empowered to offer solutions that put an emphasis on a less interventionist government,” said pollster Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group. “Voters are justifiably dissatisfied with the last six years of governing from Washington and this dissatisfaction is manifest in their frustrations about the direction of the country, their frustrations with the performance of President Obama, and their concerns about their economic and personal safety.”
The GW Battleground Poll also looked back at the 2014 midterm elections. More than three-fourths of registered voters (77 percent) said that a political campaign, party or other organization directly contacted them during the most recent campaign cycle. 
Of those contacted by a political group, the vast majority said that they were reached by postal mail (98 percent) or a phone call (83 percent), with lower percentages saying they had an interaction via newer communications methods such as email (48 percent) or social media (32 percent). More than half of respondents (51 percent) said they were contacted by campaigns too many times, with only 9 percent saying that they didn’t receive enough political outreach. 
Finally, Americans felt that they saw too many political television ads this fall, with 47 percent of those surveyed saying candidates and campaigns pitched them on TV too many times, while just 7 percent reported they saw no advertisements.
Click here for a graphic showing how political campaigns contacted voters in 2014. This graphic is available for media use; please credit the George Washington University.
More Information
For complete results, including additional numbers on the economy and President Obama, and detailed analysis from each pollster, visit the GW Battleground Poll homepage.
About the George Washington University Battleground Poll
The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership. GW’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.
The poll, which is distinguished from other surveys by its presentation of separate analyses from these top pollsters representing both sides of the aisle, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters nationwide Dec. 7-11 and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Interview Opportunities
  • Christopher Arterton, founding dean of GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (contact Jason Shevrin at 202-994-5631)
  • Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners (contact Anderson Gardner at 202-776-9066)
  • Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group (contact Brian Nienaber at 703-684-6688)