Declining Expectations

By , John Benson is senior opinion analyst at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut. Reviews of opinion data are a regular feature of "The Public Opinion and Demographic Report," which the center helps prepare for "American Enterprise" magazine.

ON the eve of the 1992 presidential primaries, the economy has moved to center stage among election issues. In early January more than three-fourths of Americans surveyed described the economy as very or fairly bad.

On the other hand, Americans view their personal finances in a more positive light. Two-thirds describe their own economic situation as very or fairly good, and pluralities maintain that their living standard is remaining the same and that they are about as well off as four years ago.

President George Bush's job approval ratings have been declining for a variety of reasons, not least of which has been the perceived state of the economy. But the blame is spread around. The administration bears part of the responsibility, but Americans place more blame on Congress.

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With New Hampshire's primary coming up, much has been made of that state's economy. Granite State residents are gloomier than most Americans, as revealed by consumer confidence measures. In a newly released Times Mirror survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates on Jan. 9-12, 31 percent of New Hampshire registered voters said their own financial situation was better today than four years ago (compared to 45 percent in a nationwide Times Mirror survey, Jan. 3-6), while 51 percent said they were worse off (compared to 41 percent nationwide). But the state's unemployment rate during 1991 has closely paralleled that of the nation as a whole.

The gloom in New Hampshire apparently stems from shattered expectations as the state moved from having a de facto labor shortage (2.4 percent unemployment in 1988, compared to 5.5 nationally) to a situation of real unemployment.

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