Americans are feeling better about the economic outlook, a new poll released Tuesday shows.
The Gallup index of economic confidence has reached its highest level since January 2008, improving to -20 in March from -22 in February. The index has increased for seven straight months after falling to -52 during the federal debt crisis last August.
"Increasing optimism about the unemployment picture is likely a strong driver of improving consumer expectations," Gallup Chief Economist Dennis Jacobe wrote. "Monday's positive report about U.S. manufacturing could also help bolster confidence, as could Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke's apparent support for continuing the Fed's stimulative policies."
The poll, based on the psychology of Americans' ratings of current economic conditions and their perceptions of whether the economy is getting better or getting worse, surveyed 15,240 adults by telephone from March 1-31.
Gallup found that among Americans making $90,000 or more annually the economic confidence index is -10, higher than that among other income groups, despite leveling off in March.
The poll also showed that confidence among upper-middle Americans making $60,000-$90,000 increased slightly in March, while confidence was essentially unchanged among middle- and lower-income Americans.
Among Democrats, economic confidence remained positive in March. Confidence levels for Republicans and Independents were essentially unchanged and remained negative at -44 and -25, respectively.
Generally, the president's party shows more confidence than other parties. However, confidence has been increasing across all parties since late last year, according to Gallup.
"On the other hand, gas prices continue to go up," Jacobe wrote. "A key question is whether the U.S. economy can continue its modest economic recovery as gas prices approach the key psychological level of $4 a gallon and the July 2008 record price of $4.11."
Friday's U.S. government unemployment report could alter the numbers, with positive unemployment numbers increasing economic confidence and negative job numbers doing the opposite, Gallup wrote.
Another poll conducted by the Discover U.S. Spending Monitor also found that economic confidence is up, spurred by positive attitudes toward the overall economy and increased confidence in personal finances.
The survey of 8,200 people found that a quarter or respondents reported their personal finances were improving, and 35 percent said the overall economy was improving — the highest figure since April 2010.
At the same time, 50 percent reported that the economy was poor, which is the lowest number since April 2010.
by RTT Staff Writer
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