WASHINGTON (AP) – Views on the country’s economy are the most optimistic they have been since the pandemic began more than a year ago, supported by Democrats feeling increasingly optimistic as President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion relief plan is being distributed across the country.
A new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs finds that 46% of Americans overall now view the economy as good, up from 37% who thought that way last month. Opinions about the economy collapsed at the start of the pandemic in April last year, when 29% said it was in good shape.
Fifty-eight percent of Democrats now rate economic conditions as good, compared to 35% of Republicans. Democratic sentiments about the economy improved after Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House, with optimism growing further after he signed his historic bailout plan.
Only 15% of Democrats felt positive about the economy in December, but 41% did so in February. Among Republicans, positive opinions fell from 67% in December to 35% in February.
Americans may yearn for Republican-Democrat cooperation, but they also recognize the lingering divide as the economy begins to heal from the coronavirus.
“I would like to see a lot more cooperation between the two parties”, said Leo Martin, 84, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a former community college teacher. “But I’m afraid it’s similar to the past four years with the two sides not working together. I blame this not only on Donald Trump, but on the press who supported Trump and encouraged him. I think it was. ‘was divided before and that it gradually got worse. “
The improved outlook for Americans generally reflects favorable impressions of Biden’s relief program and the mass vaccinations that have allowed more schools, offices and retailers to reopen. Based on the economic forecast, Biden suggested last week that growth this year could exceed 6% – the strongest performance in 37 years. That level of growth would likely come with enough hires to boost national morale, potentially alleviating some of the polarization that has defined U.S. politics for more than a decade.
The poll shows that 54% of Americans approve of the Economic Relief Act, while 25% disapprove of it. Another 21% say they have no opinion. A large majority approves many elements of the law, including funding for immunization, direct payments of $ 1,400 and extended unemployment insurance, funding for the reopening of schools, support for families and aid. to housing.
Opinions are more mixed on the price after $ 4 trillion has already been spent to support the economy as the pandemic has caused massive layoffs and business closures. Forty-two percent say the debt-funded law spends about the right amount for relief, but an additional 31% say it spends too much and 26% say it spends too little.
Matt Holland of Guilford, Maine, said his paintball business declined 30% over the year, but he’s adapted and survived because he has no debt. He voted for Trump in 2020 and anticipates increased growth as more of the country is vaccinated, but he fears a growing deficit will dampen the economy in years to come.
“I’m not one of those believers who say you can print money and the deficit doesn’t matter – ultimately your change isn’t worth anything.” said Holland, 62.
While Republicans are more likely to say they disapprove of the back-up plan, they are not significantly hostile to many of its elements despite opposition from GOP lawmakers. At least two-thirds of Republicans approve of funding by law for grants and low-interest loans for small businesses, funding for vaccine distribution, and funding for safe schools to reopen.
Overall, 70% of Americans approve of payments of $ 1,400 sent directly to eligible Americans, including 86% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans.
Michelle Djajich, 34, said the direct payment would help buy new clothes for her four children, who are growing up with just about everything. But she fears that improved unemployment benefits will encourage people not to work. She has a job open at a Quizno’s sandwich shop where she works that pays $ 10.80 an hour and it’s hard to find someone to hire.
“If people don’t go back to work, all this money is going to be spent and the economy is going to suffer again. said Djajich, who lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
About two-thirds of Americans support mortgage financing and rent assistance, including about 8 in 10 Democrats and about half of Republicans. About 6 in 10 Americans support the extended moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, including three-quarters of Democrats and nearly half of Republicans.
Overall, 61% of Americans approve of the way Biden handles his job as president; 73% approve of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic; and 60% approve of the way he manages the economy. Less, 48%, approve of Biden’s handling of the federal budget deficit.
The direct payments from the Relief Act seem to have an impact on people’s lives. Half say they have already received the money; a quarter say they expect to receive one.
Among Americans who say they have received or expect to receive a payment, 33% say most of it will be used to pay bills. Another 21% say most of the money will be used to pay down debt. About 23% plan to save most of the payment, while 16% plan to increase their spending. Only 3% say they will donate it or give it to friends or family.
Skip Kendall, 72, of Naples, Fla., Said he appreciated the relief program, but felt the payments should have been better targeted.
“There were too many people who had money and who didn’t need it, including me” said Kendall, who put the money into savings. “I’m not going to send him back. But these things should be better directed to the people who need them. “