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Americans optimistic about economy, but pessimistic about country’s direction - CBS News poll

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By Anthony Salvanto, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Kabir Khanna

More than two-thirds of Americans feel the economy is good, and most are optimistic about it in the coming year. The rating of the economy is historically high for the measure at a two-year mark of a presidential term.

Yet most Americans only rate the way things are going in the country overall as only fair or even going badly, and 65 percent feel the country is on the wrong track – largely, they say, because they are unhappy with the state of politics today.

More people today say it is off on the wrong track than did so last fall. Today's figures are comparable to a year ago.


For those with negative views, political evaluations overshadow economic ones: asked why they felt the U.S. is on the wrong track, those who feel that way picked "the state of politics and how the government is functioning" as their top reason by a wide margin.


Among those who think the U.S. is on the right track, the economy stands out, with two-thirds citing that as the main reason they think things are going well. This is the top answer given by Republicans, who are the most likely to feel the nation is heading in the right direction.


Today's evaluations on the economy are the most positive compared to previous presidents as they marked the second year of their presidencies, going back to 1991. Now, 68 percent say the economy is good, and 38 percent say it's bad. Under President Obama, in Jan. 2011, as the U.S. was still recovering from the financial crisis, only 26 percent said the economy was good. 

Looking ahead, most Americans are optimistic about the condition of the economy over the next year, although roughly four in 10 are pessimistic. Expectations differ little by income, but there are partisan differences. Eighty-three percent of Republicans (and most independents) are optimistic about the state of the economy over the next year, while 62 percent of Democrats are pessimistic.

Over the years the measure on the country's direction has usually found Americans more likely to say wrong track much more often than right one. Throughout President Obama's presidency, on average, more than six in 10 Americans said the country was off on the wrong track, not much different than today. Views of the country's direction have been negative for more than a decade.

Asked to pick words to describe the way things are going today one-third of Americans says things are either great or good right now. A majority of Republicans call it either good or great. Most Americans overall describe things as fair (36 percent), or bad (27 percent).

There is not a lot of optimism about life for the next generation of Americans. More think life will be worse (42 percent) for them than better (30 percent). This is largely true across demographic and political groups, although younger Americans are a bit more optimistic.

Unlike the state of the economy, most are unhappy with the state of Washington. Both Democrats and Republicans call themselves either dissatisfied or angry at the way things are going in the nation's capital. (In this same poll, many voiced concern about the effects of the government shutdown.)

And partisans divide on how they feel specifically about the next two years with Donald Trump as President and the Democrats as the majority in the House of Representatives. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans are optimistic, while sixty-one percent of Democrats are pessimistic.

Looking internationally and at threats, a majority of Americans -- 59 percent -- say they feel safe from terrorist attacks.

But most also feel the U.S. position in the world is weaker today. Democrats are especially likely to feel this way.


On the home front, 57 percent of Americans say race relations in the U.S. are generally bad. Views on this have been largely negative for the last few years. Majorities of both white (54 percent) and black Americans (73 percent) say race relations are bad, but blacks are far more likely to feel that way.


While there may be some disagreement about the best approach to the issue, most Americans (69 percent) say illegal immigration is at least a somewhat serious problem for the country. Republicans (75 percent) are far more likely than Democrats (18 percent) to describe illegal immigration as a very serious problem.


Here's something partisans agree on. A majority of Americans, 56 percent, feel America's "culture and values" are changing in ways they disagree with. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans and 54 percent of Democrats feel this way.

This poll was conducted by telephone January 18-21, 2019 among a random sample of 1,102 adults nationwide.  Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Glen Mills, PA.  Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.

Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers. The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables.

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 and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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