Poll: Economy Worries On The Rise

CBS News/New York Times poll graphic
Trust in government is eroding amid increasing concerns about the economy, the declining stock market and American business ethics. And that could spell trouble for the White House and the GOP as the fall elections near, a CBS News/New York Times poll finds.

While President George W. Bush's overall approval rating remains high at 70%, concerns that he - and especially his Administration - worries more about big business than the public at large have emerged. Some of those concerns may affect the fall election, with Democrats now holding even larger advantages over Republicans on many key domestic issues than they did before September 11.

Some poll highlights:

  • Nearly half now say the country is on the wrong track - the largest percentage since last June. Only 38% say they can trust the government to do what's right most of the time, also down near pre-9/11 levels.
  • In just the last week, the percentage saying the Stock Market is in good shape has dropped 14 points, down to 33%. Fewer than half say the U.S. economy is in good shape, something that hasn't happened since 1994. 41% say it's getting worse.
  • Nearly six in ten say the U.S. economy is in worse shape than it was two years ago, and nearly a third say their own family's financial situation is worse than in 2000.
  • Nearly all Americans say the corporate accounting scandals are a serious problem for the economy, with 62% saying they are a very serious problem.
  • Americans are divided on whether Bush personally cares more about protecting the interests of large corporations or the interests of ordinary Americans - but six in ten say his Administration AND his party care more about large corporations than about ordinary Americans.

    President Bush continues to get high marks from the public as a person and a President - his approval rating is 70%, and 64% give him an overall favorable rating. But many have questions about his relationship with big business. The personal confidence Americans have in their President, however does NOT extend to members of his Administration, who are overwhelmingly seem too influenced by big business and not necessarily honest in their previous business dealings.

    CBSNEWS - New York Times Polls
    President And His Administration

     George W. BushAdministration Members
    Care about needs of people



     George W. BushAdministration Members
    Share Americans' moral values



     George W. BushAdministration Members
    Behaved honestly and ethically in previous business practice



     George W. BushAdministration Members
    Did not behave honestly and ethically



     George W. BushAdministration Members
    Influenced too much by big business



     George W. BushAdministration Members
    More interested in protecting ordinary Americans



     George W. BushAdministration Members
    More interested in protecting big business



    CBSNEWS Polls

    While Bush gets high marks on caring about people, his Administration does not. He is somewhat more likely to be thought of as someone who shares Americans' moral values than other members of the Administration are. And while about a third of the public can't say for sure about the business ethics of either the President or other members of his Adminstration before the 2000 election, fewer currently have doubts about Bush than have doubts about his staff.

    There is broad consensus on the relationship of business to the Administration. Majorities say big business has too much influence on both Bush and his colleagues. The public divides on whether Bush cares more about them or about large corporations, but by more than two to one, Americans say members of the Administration are more likely to be on the side of large corporations than on the public's side. In addition, a majority believe the Administration's policies favor the rich.

    There is a divide on whether it is Bush or the members of his Administration that is really in charge. 45% say Bush is in charge, 45% say others are really running the government. Consequently, the President's proposals for reform in corporate accounting practices face a skeptical audience, many of whom may see others in the Administration as the real authors. More say that in these proposals Bush was mostly looking out for the interests of large corporations than he was looking out for the interests of ordinary Americans.

    Looking out mostly for corporate interests: 50%
    Looking out mostly for Americans' interests: 37%

    Many Americans also say those proposals did not go far enough - 43% say this, while 36% say the proposals were about right. But even on this issue, there are still good feelings about Bush as an individual. 61% trust him to do the right thing when it comes to regulating business to prevent corporate abuses in general. 53% trust members of his Adminstration.

    There has been a little slippage in Bush's overall approval level and approval of his handling of the economy in the last week. 70% approve of the way he is handling his job overall, and 52% approve of the way he is handling the economy. Last week, 74% approved of how he was handling his job overall, while 56% approved of his handling of the economy. In contrast, approval of his handling of foreign policy is slightly higher.

    Bush Approval Ratings
    Overall 70%
    Foreign policy 68
    Economy 52

    Last Week:
    Overall 74%
    Foreign Policy 64
    Economy 56

    Concerns about the economy, the stock market and jobs have resulted in one of the public's lowest ratings of the nation's economy since January 1994. The percentage that says the economy is in good shape has dropped seven points from just last week. Now, 49% think the economy is very or fairly good, and 49% think it is very or fairly bad. Last week, 56% said they thought the economy was in good condition, while 43% said it was bad.

    Rating Of The U.S. Economy
    Good 49%
    Bad 49

    Last Week:
    Good 56%
    Bad 43

    Good: 50%
    Bad 48

    Perceptions of the economy are distinctly partisan, as they frequently have been in the past. 65% of Republicans say the economy is in good shape, and 34% say it is bad. Among Democrats, only 41% think the economy is in good condition, while a majority - 58% - says it is bad.

    There is a giant party gap as well in assessment of how Bush is handling the economy. 77% of Republicans approve, compared with just 34% of Democrats, a 43-point difference.

    Some of these negative ratings may be due to the declining stock market, perceptions of which are highly negative. Positive evaluations of the stock market have declined 14 points in just one week. Now more than half - 58% - rate the condition of the stock market as fairly or very bad, and just 33% describe the condition of the stock market as good.

    Condition Of Stock Market Is ...
    Good 33%
    Bad 58

    Last Week:
    Good 47%
    Bad 45

    Good 43%
    Bad 43

    In a CBS News Poll conducted last week, the public was more closely divided on how the stock market was doing. 47% had a positive view of the market, and 45% had a negative view.

    When asked to compare the nation's economy and their own family's finances to two years ago, there is more negative than positive assessment. 58% of Americans say the economy is worse today.

    Compared To Two Years Ago...
    Better today 10%
    Worse today 58
    Same 31

    Family's Finances
    Better today 23%
    Worse today 30
    Same 46

    Even though 46% say their family's financial situation is unchanged from two years ago, 30% say their financial situation is worse today. This number is the highest recorded since the recession of the early 1990s. Less than one in four now say their financial situation is better today than two years ago.

    Women are more likely than men to say today's economy is worse than two years ago and that their family's financial situation is worse today as well.

    Americans are not optimistic about the economy's future. Four in ten (41%) say the economy is getting worse. Only 14% say the economy is getting better. The public's economic outlook hasn't been this negative since the week following the terror attacks of September 11th.

    Outlook For The U.S. Economy
    Getting better 14%
    Getting worse 41
    Staying the same 44

    Getting better 18%
    Getting worse 33
    Staying the same 48

    Getting better 8%
    Getting worse 55
    Staying the same 35

    The economy ranks near terrorism at the top of the list of problems the public wants the President and Congress to address, each cited by about one in five. Far fewer mention other domestic issues such as education, and Social Security and Medicare. 6% mention a new issue -- the recent corporate scandals -- as the most important problem for government to address.

    Most Important Problem
    Terrorism, war 22%
    Economy, stock market, jobs 19
    Corporate scandals 6
    Education 5
    Social Security/Medicare 3

    After the terror attacks of September 11th, Americans' trust in government increased significantly. It now appears that surge has ebbed and the public's trust in government has returned to its pre-September 11th levels.

    Now, 38% say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right always or most of the times. This number is down from 46% in January and from 55% in October 2001, a few weeks after the terror attacks of September 11th. More than six in ten (61%) Americans now say they trust the government only some of the time or never. Only 44% expressed this view last October. In January 2001, 67% of Americans said they trusted the government only some of the time or never.

    Can Trust Government...
    Now 1/02 10/01 1/01
    Always 5% 5% 10 3%
    Most of the time 33 41 45 48
    Some of the time 57 51 42 64
    Never (vol.) 4 2 2 3

    American opinion on the direction the country is headed has shifted since the start of the year. Opinions are now close to what they were prior to September 11th. Nearly half now says things in this country have pretty seriously gotten on the wrong track, while 42% say things are generally going in the right direction. Back in January, opinion was reversed: 52% said things in this country were headed in the right direction, while only 35% said things had gotten on the wrong track.

    Direction Of The Country
    Now 1/02 12/01 6/01
    Right direction 42% 52% 64% 42%
    Wrong track 48 35 27 53

    There are partisan differences on where the country is headed. More Republicans than Democrats, by 63%-30%, feel the country is headed in the right direction. On the other hand, by 62% to 28%, Democrats say things in the U.S. have pretty seriously gotten on the wrong track. Half of Independents agree that things have gotten off on the wrong track. Those who think the economy is in bad shape are especially likely to think the country is headed off on the wrong track.


    Americans' assessment of the job big business is doing on specific issues is worse now than it was in the mid-eighties at the height of the Savings and Loan scandal, reflecting the seriousness with which most Americans view the current scandals.

    Job Big Business Is Doing On ...
    Good Bad
    Producing safe products 56% 42
    Contributing to their communities 28% 69
    Keeping the environment clean 27% 72
    Seeing that executives behave legally 15% 81

    Majorities give big business negative marks on nearly all matters. Only on producing safe products does the public rate positively the job big business is doing. On other issues, such as contributing to the well-being of their communities, keeping the environment clean and seeing to that its executives behave legally and ethically, Americans give big business poor marks.

    It's on the issue of making sure its executives behave legally and ethically that big business' job performance has dropped the most. In 1986, a third of Americans said big business did an excellent or pretty good job in this area, while 60% disagreed. Now, just 15% rate big business positively on seeing to it that its executives behave legally and ethically, while 81% views big business negatively on this issue. Overall, only 14% have a lot of confidence in big business.

    When asked directly if American business executives share the moral values most Americans try to live by, 64% say they do not. Just a quarter say business executives share the moral values of most Americans.

    Do Business Executives Share Americans' Values?
    Yes 27%
    No 64

    Bush And Cheney As Corporate Executives

    Less than half the public say they've heard or read a lot or some about Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's business dealings before they were elected - and while many think each man is hiding something about his previous business dealings, only one in four so far say either did anything unethical. There is more skepticism among those paying the most attention, however.

    Harken And Halliburton
    Heard or read about their business dealings 37% 28%

    Rating their answers: Telling truth 17% 11%
    Hiding something 48 43
    Lying 9 10

    Did anything unethical: Yes 24% 23%
    No 39 32 Not sure 37 45

    The recent corporate scandals, and questions about President Bush's and Vice President Cheney's past business dealings appear to have tainted the Republican party more than the Democratic party. Even though Americans see both political parties as being too influenced by big business, Republicans are viewed as the party more influenced. The Republican Party is seen as much more likely to protect the interests of large corporations rather than the interests of ordinary Americans.

    67% of Americans say the Republican party is too influenced by big business, compared to 49% who say the same about the Democrats.

    Influence Of Big Business On The Parties
    Reps Dems
    Too much influence 67% 49%
    Too little influence 4 10
    Right amount 20 28

    When asked directly which party big business has more influence on, more than half - 53% - say the Republicans, while just 17% say Democrats. 14% say both parties are equally influenced by big business.

    Which Party Is More Influenced By Big Business?
    Republican 53%
    Democratic 17
    Both 14

    Republicans are also viewed as more likely to protect large corporations rather than ordinary Americans. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) of Americans say the Republican Party is more interested in protecting the interests of large corporations over ordinary Americans' interests, while 29% say the opposite. These numbers are similar to those given the Bush Administration on this same question.

    Whose Interests Are The Parties Protecting?
    Reps Dems
    Ordinary Americans 29% 52%
    Large corporations 58 31

    In contrast, 51% say the Democrats are more interested in protecting the interests of ordinary Americans, while 32% say they are more interested in protecting the interests of corporations.

    Republicans are still seen as the party better able to handle the nation's defense, including fighting terrorism. Democrats, on the other hand, have an increasing edge on domestic issues like health care, Social Security and the environment.

    Which Party Would Do A Better Job On ...?
    Reps. Dems.
    Republican Strengths:
    Making sure military is strong 64% 20
    Dealing with terrorism 49% 22

    Despite the passage of a prescription drug bill by the Republican-controlled House, the Democrats have widened their lead as the party more likely to improve the health care system. Now, Democrats have a 36-point lead over Republicans on this issue, compared to a 23-point advantage they had back in January. Democrats have also increased their lead over Republicans on the issue of improving education.

    Which Party Would Do A Better Job On ...?
    Reps. Dems.
    Democratic Strengths:
    Health Care 22% 58
    Protecting the environment 19% 60
    Social Security 30% 49
    Improving education 33% 48

    Views of the two parties are closest on the issue of making sure the country is prosperous which has been the case before and after September 11th. 39% of Americans say the Republicans are more likely to ensure the country's prosperity, and 39% give the edge to the Democrats.

    Which Party Would Do A Better Job On ...?
    Reps Dems
    No Advantage:
    Making U.S. prosperous 39% 39

    Overall perceptions of the parties haven't changed much since January. 53% now have a favorable opinion of the Republican party. Just as many view the Democratic party favorably. There are gender differences in party evaluations. Women favor the Democrats more, men the Republicans.

    The economic and business issues are seen as important ones, and consequently could impact the fall campaign. For the last few months, registered voters have been divided as to whether they thought they would vote for the Republicans or the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives this fall. In this poll, however, the Democrats have a six-point edge. 42% of registered voters say they will vote Democratic, 36% Republican.

    Among this same group, George W. Bush may be somewhat of a help to his party. 26% say they will think of their House vote this fall as a vote for Bush, while 16%say their vote will be against Bush. 51%, however, say the President won't matter to their House vote.

    Those with stock market investments have an even more negative view of the market than the general public. 71% of investors now rate the market as very or fairly bad, while just 27% say the market very or fairly good. Just last week, 47% of investors said the stock market was in good shape, and 52% said the market's was in bad condition.

    Investor Views Of The Stock Market
    Now Last week
    Good 27% 47%
    Bad 71 52

    Despite their negative views of the market's condition, a majority of investors have not changed their investing approach. 61% say they have not changed their approach, while 38% have changed their approach to their investments a result of what's happened in the stock market in the past year.

    Yet, more than six in 10 investors do say they are very or somewhat worried about their investments losing money as a result of recent corporate scandals, while 38% say they are not worried about losing money.

    Investor Worries About Investments Losing Money
    Very worried 24%
    Somewhat worried 38
    Not worried 38

    This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1,000 adults, interviewed by telephone July 13-16, 2002. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.

    For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.