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CNN Poll: Views of the state of the country are slightly improved, but Americans’ economic concerns remain

<i>Spencer Platt/Getty Images</i><br/>Public perception of the U.S. economy remains grim. People walk outside of the New York Stock Exchange on September 23
Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Public perception of the U.S. economy remains grim. People walk outside of the New York Stock Exchange on September 23

By Jennifer Agiesta and Ariel Edwards-Levy, CNN

Americans’ views of the state of the nation have bounced back slightly since earlier this year, a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS finds, but public perception of the economy remains grim. Nearly half of Americans say they’re financially worse off than they were a year ago, the survey finds, with more than 90% expressing concerns about the cost of living and the majority cutting expenses in response.

Only 35% of US adults say that things are going well in the country today, with 65% saying things are going badly. That, however, marks a modest improvement from surveys this summer and fall, when fewer than 3 in 10 said things were going well. The share who now say things are going very badly is 19%, down from 34% in CNN’s polling this summer and 26% in October. The positive shift in mood is most evident among Democrats, 58% of whom now say things are going well, up from 47% in October.

President Joe Biden’s job approval rating stands at 46%, with 54% disapproving — still underwater, but up from 41% who approved in late October. They are his strongest numbers in CNN polling since a year ago, when 49% said they approved in December 2021. His approval rating ticked up several points across partisan lines in comparison with polling taken prior to the midterm election. Just 14% of all US adults strongly approve of Biden, while 35% strongly disapprove.

Many Americans see the economy, however, as continuing to deteriorate, and views of the president’s handling of the issue remain deeply negative. Slightly over half, 53%, say they believe economic conditions are continuing to worsen, with 30% saying the economy has stabilized and is neither worsening nor improving, and just 17% say that it’s getting better.

Americans continue to rate Biden lower on economic issues than for his job performance overall. Just 36% approve of his handling of the economy, and only 33% give him positive marks for his handling of inflation. Neither of those has improved compared with CNN polling earlier this fall, despite the uptick in Biden’s overall ratings.

About half of Americans, 49%, say their own financial situation is worse off than a year ago, while another 34% say they’re about the same as a year ago, and 16% that they’re now better off. The share saying their finances have worsened over the year is only modestly below the peak of 55% who said the same in Gallup polling asking the same question during the 2008 financial crisis. In CNN’s December 2021 poll, just 33% said their finances had worsened over the course of the previous year.

The current cost of living represents a near-universal worry, with 93% saying they’re at least somewhat concerned by this, including 63% very concerned. Roughly 8 in 10 (80%) say they’re concerned about the recent increase in interest rates, with 42% saying they’re very concerned. Relatively few are seriously worried about someone in their household losing a job within the next few months — 37% say they’re at least somewhat concerned about this, but just 15% that they’re very concerned.

Most also say they’re taking measures to curb expenses in the past few months as a result of recent economic conditions. About 7 in 10 Americans (71%) say they’ve cut back on nonessential spending to afford necessities, with 71% also saying they’ve changed what groceries they buy in order to stay within their budget — up from 63% on both questions in CNN’s polling conducted this spring. A similar 70% say they’ve had to cut back on how much they’re spending on holiday gifts this year. And 34% say that they’ve had difficulty in finding affordable housing. With gas prices falling, however, the share who say they’ve cut back on driving has ticked downward, from 54% this spring to 49% in the latest poll. That is still higher than the share who said they had cut back on driving a year ago, when gas prices were on average just a few cents cheaper per gallon at the time the poll was conducted than they are today.

Americans in both higher and lower income brackets are all more likely now than they were a year ago to say their finances have worsened over the course of the past year, but the shift among Americans earning $50,000 or more annually is particularly sharp: 45% say their finances have worsened during 2022, up from 24% who said the same at the end of 2021. Democrats, Republicans and independents are all likelier now than a year ago to say they’ve lost ground financially.

The divides in Americans’ financial outlooks suggest they’re influenced both by their current level of income and also, in some cases, their partisan support. Two-thirds of Republicans in households making less than $50,000 annually say their financial situation has worsened over the past year, as do 45% of Democrats making less than $50,000. A 60% majority of Republicans in households making $50,000 or more say they’re worse off, however, compared with just 26% of Democrats in similar households.

Beyond the economy, the poll finds the public also gives Biden low ratings on his handling of immigration (38%) and gun policy (39%). By contrast, 50% approve of Biden’s approach to protecting democracy in America and his handling of the situation in Ukraine, respectively — in both cases, a modest uptick from CNN’s polling earlier this year.

Biden’s acute weakness on economic issues, and his relative strength on handling democracy and Ukraine, persist across partisan lines: 88% of Democrats, for instance, approve of Biden’s handling of protecting US democracy, while a smaller 66% majority approve of his handling of inflation. About half of independents (48%) and 15% of Republicans approve of Biden’s work on protecting democracy, while only 27% of independents and 7% of Republicans approve on inflation.

This CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS on December 1 through 7 among a random national sample of 1,208 adults drawn from a probability-based panel. Surveys were either conducted online or by telephone with a live interviewer. Results among the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 points; it is larger for subgroups.

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