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April 25, 2013

New Heartland poll paints a gloomy picture of American mood

People are increasingly concerned about the economy and increasingly skeptical of government and business institutions, a new Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll released Thursday found.

The annual survey focuses on the middle class. Forty-six percent see themselves as middle class, and 85 percent "consider themselves a part of an expanded definition of being middle class" that includes upper and lower middle class, the survey said.

The poll found that overall, the mood of the nation is worse. Twenty-nine percent said the U.S. is headed in the right direction, down from 41 percent in November.'

Democrats' optimism is down 23 points to 54 percent, and 32 percent of the middle class feel the country is headed in the right direction.

"Over the last four years, Americans' views in this poll have been consistently right about the economy. Today, they are sounding the alarm bell that the economy is not on track for sustainable growth. More affordable college education, job creation and stability are seen as key priorities," said Thomas J. Wilson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Allstate, in a statement.

See the poll here.

"The blame is spread wide and far, from politicians to business leaders. Americans are crying out for leaders to work together to create a path to economic prosperity. We should listen and act now."

The poll also shows the middle class is worried, thinking upper classes will have better access to health care, annual pay increases and vacations in the future.

Other findings from a news release:

"Heartland Monitor XVI reveals that public opinion is narrowly balanced between hopes of economic improvement and fears about falling behind. Nearly three-in-five middle class Americans (59 percent) say they are concerned about falling out of their economic class. The attributes Americans have historically seen as safeguards for middle class families such as educational attainment and responsible financial planning are now considered by many to be unrealistic or only attainable by the upper class.  At the same time, Americans remain optimistic about the potential to move up the economic ladder at some point in the future; this is especially true among Millennials, African Americans and Hispanics, whom view economic opportunity as being on the horizon. 

"The new poll shows that there is now a sense that the term 'middle class' has now been redefined to mean not falling behind, rather than upward mobility and material possessions. Americans mostly blame decisions made by political leaders and major business institutions over the past few decades for wages falling behind living expenses. In fact, Americans believe the government and private sector (local business excluded) are actually making the economic situation worse for the middle class. The latest Heartland Monitor shows that 64 percent of Americans believe Congress has made things worse for the middle class, while a mere 8 percent believe legislators are making things better. It's not much better in the private sector, 55 percent of Americans think major financial institutions are making things worse and 54 percent of Americans believe CEOs of major U.S. corporations are hurting the economy as well.

"Americans are clear with their prescriptions for policymakers with more than half (55 percent) preferring lawmakers to take an approach that invests in long-term job planning and growth in favor of initiatives that temporarily alleviates day-to-day expenses (38 percent). Among a list of policy preferences favored by Americans as a prescription for improving the middle class, improving access to and lowering the cost of higher education ranked as the most important (38 percent). Although most Americans still consider a college education to be an important hallmark of middle-class status, many now feel it is affordable only for the upper class (49 percent)."

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