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The economy in elections 2008 v. 2012

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Steve Chiotakis: Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are scouring New Hampshire today, reminding Granite State voters of their strong performances in Iowa, and how their economic policies would bring America out of the doldrums. But some indicators show the economy is already improving and recovering — just very slowly. Today we gauge how people are feeling about the economy compared with the mood in early 2008.

Frank Newport is editor-in-chief at Gallup and he’s with us now. Hey Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Chiotakis: I want to start with some comparisons on key economic indices, like say, consumer confidence. Where are we now, and where we were four years ago.

Newport: Right now, we’re still in negative territory, although it has been improving some — coming into January it’s actually looking a little better. You ask about ’08 Steve? The key is, it was different.

Back there in January of ’08, people were rating the current economy as pretty good. Where Americans were very negative back there is looking ahead — 75 percent said then they thought the economy was going to get worse, and they were right.

Now, Americans are less confident in where the current economy is, however, they’re a little more positive about the direction of the economy. So there’s some different components going on now from four years ago.

Chiotakis: What about the jobs picture, Frank? How are people feeling about jobs?

Newport: Much worse than they were in January of ’08. That’s before the anvil had hit people on the head back then. Right now, our job creation index — where we ask American workers: is your company hiring — is at a +14. Which isn’t too bad, but if we go all the way back to January of ’08, that was at a +26. In other words, in ’08, Americans told us their companies were hiring a lot more than they’re telling us right now that their companies are hiring.

Chiotakis: And the most important problem, Frank, facing the country as we look ahead to this election year — what are people telling us?

Newport: It’s still the economy — 64 percent of Americans say something about the economy as the top problem. Either the economy in general or jobs. Actually, in third place behind those two specifics is worry about the government.

But if we go all the way back to ’08, it was totally different. It was still — believe it or not — the war in Iraq that was the top problem as we ended the year ’08. The end of that year, of course, it had shifted and most Americans said it was the economy. But as we went into ’08, Americans were still worried about the war in Iraq, and also health care. Relatively few told us that the economy was a top problem back then.

Chiotakis: Gallup’s editor-in-chief Frank Newport. Frank, thank you.

Newport: You bet.

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