CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.
Americans are still largely down on the economy but have become slightly more optimistic, according to the latest CBS News/ New York Times poll.
And as President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney lay out their competing economic visions, most Americans are confident either candidate could handle the economy. Voters are skeptical, however, that either candidate would help their own personal financial situation.
As many as seven in 10 Americans say the economy is in bad shape, according to the poll, conducted April 13-17. Another 27 percent think the economy is at in at least somewhat good shape - a low figure, but the best it's been since 2008.
The unemployment rate, and now, one third of Americans think the economy is headed in the right direction. Another 28 percent think the economy is getting worse, while 38 percent think it is staying the same.
Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to view both the condition and the direction of the economy favorably. Fifty-four percent of Democrats think the economy is getting better, and 42 percent think its condition is at least somewhat good. Only 16 percent of Republicans think the economy is getting better, and just 5 percent call the economy good.
But for Americans of all political persuasions, the economy is the most important problem facing the country today. When Americans were asked to pick which economic issue other than jobs concerned them the most, inflation topped the list at 34 percent, followed by the budget deficit at 31 percent, the financial markets at 16 percent and the housing market at 15 percent. Last June - amidst a political stand-off regarding the federal budget - the budget deficit was picked first.
Financial and job worries
Many Americans have struggled financially over the past two years. Nearly four in 10 say they have been falling behind financially over the past two years, and just 16 percent said they have been getting ahead. Another 43 percent say they have been staying even.
In a tough economy, Americans' financial concerns span from short- to long-term: While many say their biggest worry is retirement (30 percent), a plurality of Americans (38 percent) say everyday bills bring the most concern right now.
Those with relatively higher incomes are less likely to be concerned about day-to-day bills. Health care concerns span all income levels.
Americans express some job insecurity as well. While half of working Americans feel their job is very secure, another third feel it is somewhat secure, and 14 percent see it as tenuous at best. Insecurity spans income levels. Thirty-four percent of working Americans say they have had their salary or wages reduced as a result of economic conditions.
Impact on November election?
The economy may play a pivotal role in the November election, and Mr. Obama's approval rating on handling it has hovered around 40 percent for much of the past year.
When asked specifically about the impact each would have on their own personal financial situation, registered voters were skeptical about what either Mr. Obama or Mitt Romney could do, though they were slightly more optimistic about Romney's impact.
As many as 38 percent said if Mr. Obama is re-elected his policies would make their own financial situation worse, compared to 26 percent who think he would make things better. By comparison 26 percent said Romney's election would make their personal situation worse while 28 percent said it would make things better. About one third said neither Romney nor Mr. Obama would have an impact.
Voters expressed more confidence in the candidates on the broader issue of handling the economy: About half of voters are confident in Mr. Obama to do so (51 percent) and slightly more (55 percent) are confident in Romney.
Americans overwhelmingly want the government to "do more" to help the financial situation of middle class Americans - and that desire cuts across party lines.
When it comes to deciding which is the best way to promote economic growth, most Americans prefer spending more on education and infrastructure while raising taxes on the wealthy and businesses to pay for it (56 percent), while less than half favor lowering taxes and cutting government spending (37 percent). Democrats and independents favor the former, while Republicans favor the latter.
The price of gas is bringing serious financial hardship to about a third of Americans, and some difficulty to another third. Those in lower income brackets are harder hit - among those making $50,000 a year or less, 45 percent say gas prices have created serious hardship.
Oil prices have spiked from $75 per barrel in October to $104 today. While the Obama administration has said there's "no silver bullet" to gas prices, the president is calling on Congress to implement a plan to help the oil market by.
Americans are a bit less likely now than a few weeks ago to believe a president has the power to do something about gas prices. Today, 48 percent say he does, down from 54 percent in March.
The housing market
The impact of the downturn in housing prices has also been widespread. Current conditions suggest this will be a better year for the housing market, but a full recovery could take several years.
Just over half of Americans say the effect of the downturn has either been difficult or a hardship for their family. Those with lower household incomes have been most widely affected. As many as 64 percent are worried about paying their housing costs.
Twenty-three percent are "underwater" on their mortgage - they say their home is worth less than the amount they owe. Homeowners across all income groups find themselves in this situation, and two in three have children under age 18.
Three in four Americans say that home foreclosures are a problem in their community, including 38 percent who say it is a major problem. Just one in five says home foreclosures are not a problem in their area.
Nearly half of those living in the West say home foreclosures are a major problem in their community. Four in 10 residents of the Midwest and South also say it's a major problem.
Just 15 percent say the local real estate market is getting worse - but only 26 percent say it is improving.
When asked who they blame most for the home mortgage crisis, 34 percent of Americans blame the lenders who approved mortgages to people who might not be able to afford higher interest rates. Another 31 percent blame the regulators who were supposed to supervise the mortgage lending business and protect consumers. Just 15 percent blame the borrowers themselves, who should not have taken out loans they might have trouble paying.
Perhaps because so many have been affected by the drop in the housing market, 52 percent of Americans think the government should do more to help improve it, including 40 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents.
Future for the next generation
Americans are pessimistic about the long-term future for the next generation. Twenty-four percent think things will get better for the next generation, and nearly twice as many expect things to be worse for them. Another 23 percent expect the future will be the same.
Parents of children over 18 are less optimistic than parents of younger children - perhaps because so many younger people are having trouble finding jobs.
The number of Americans who think things will be worse is about the same as it was last fall, and not near the high of 58 percent reached in March 1995.More from the polls:
This poll was conducted by telephone from April 13-17, 2012 among 957 adults nationwide.
Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.