Poll: Gas prices not hurting economic confidence

Gas prices at 76 station, Los Angeles, California, with Gas Service road sign and nozzle, on texture with UP arrow CBS/AP

(MoneyWatch) Americans confidence in the economy continued to improve last week to hit a four-year high as better news on the jobs front more than offset rising gas prices, a new Gallup poll found.

U.S. economic confidence improved to -17 in the week ending March 25 from -21 the prior week. Economic confidence is now by a single point at its highest weekly level since Gallup started daily tracking in January 2008. (Index readings are calculated by taking the percentage of respondents who say the economy is improving and subtracting the percentage of people who say things are getting worse.)

"Americans' confidence in the economy is at its best level in four years, despite high gas prices," says Dennis Jacobe, Gallup's chief economist, in a new report. "This suggests that the moderately improving economy and, in particular, the improving job situation are offsetting, at least in part, the drag of gas prices on consumer perceptions of the economy."

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Although the latest reading is only a marginal improvement in terms of a new high, it does place current economic confidence at its best weekly level of the past four years, Jacobe notes. Additionally, while economic confidence showed similar improvement early last year when it hit -18 in February, the gains were short-lived.

"That enthusiasm dissipated quickly," Jacobe says. "Economic confidence plunged to -33 during the comparable week in March of a year ago."

See Gallup's tracking of U.S. economic confidence below:

Gallup

Americans' better mood could have implications for the presidential election in November, Gallup says. "If U.S. economic confidence continues to improve and breaks out to higher levels not seen over the past four years, that could be good news for President Obama," Jacobe writes. "Gallup analysis suggests that higher economic confidence is linked to higher presidential approval ratings in early 2012."

Given past trends, relatively small gains in economic confidence going forward could send the president's approval rating above 50 percent, "much improving his chances for re-election," says Jacobe.

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    Dan Burrows, a veteran of Aol's DailyFinance, SmartMoney and MarketWatch from Dow Jones, covers the markets and economy with an eye toward investing for the long haul.

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