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Attitude Check

Who Americans trust with big economic decisions

Marketplace Contributor May 3, 2012

David Brancaccio: Bill Clinton is warning Europeans that the prescription of austerity, quote “continues to be pushed in the face of evidence that it won’t work.” Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in California, the former president said what’s needed in Europe — and the U.S. — is less political rancor and more long term thinking on promoting growth.

Now for those not inclined to accept this kind of economic advice from an ex-U.S. president, the question arises: who do Americans trust to handle these matters?

Which brings us to our weekly Attitude Check, a partnership with Gallup. Joining us is Gallup’s editor-in-chief Frank Newport. Good morning.

Frank Newport: Good morning David.

Brancaccio: All right then, so who do Americans say they trust to handle our economic problems? I mean I could come up with a list; it might have Bernanke on it, the Fed chair?

Newport: Well, indeed we did come up with a list. We read it to Americans — we do that every April — and said: how much confidence do you have in each of the following to recommend the right thing in the economy? And the answer to your question, I would say, “None of the above.”

Obama comes out better than anybody else, but only 19 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in what the president would recommend on the economy. Romney — we tested him a little below that; and then Ben Bernanke, you mentioned him — he’s a little below that. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner still lower, and the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress are lower still.

So when you look at it from a big picture, Americans don’t have confidence in a lot of these people — and probably that’s because even though economic confidence is up, a lot of Americans still rate the current economy as not good, and since most of these people are still in charge, Americans are saying: Why should I trust these people? So far, they’re not doing a great job.

Brancaccio: Did you say economic confidence is up?

Newport: That’s right. Consumer confidence, economic confidence, is certainly a lot better now in our Gallup tracking than it was last year. So we do have a more positive American population. But on an absolute basis, it’s still in negative territory. So on a relative basis, Americans are more positive; on an absolute basis, they’re nowhere near where they were, let’s say back in the 2000s.

Brancaccio: On a program like this, names like Bernanke and Geithner are sort of top panoply of stars. But I know if I go down the street here in New York after we talk and ask people: Who is the Treasury Secretary of the United States of America? We’re going to have some blank stares…

Newport: It depends what street you go down, right? If you go down Wall Street, you’d probably have more people who would know…

Brancaccio: Fair point Frank.

Newport: …than Main Street America. But let me say that 85 percent of Americans, David, give an opinion on Bernanke. Now, whether or not they know exactly what he does, we don’t know. But that’s up; when we first tested the Fed chair Ben Bernanke back in 2006, only about 60 percent plus were able to give an opinion, and now we have 85 percent. So whether they know exactly what it is that he does; whether they could name him spontaneously — when we read his name, also Geithner’s name, over eight out of ten Americans are willing to give an opinion. And as I mentioned before, the opinion is not overwhelmingly positive about how smart these guys are on the economy.

Brancaccio: Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup, thank you very much.

Newport: My pleasure.

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