Economic Anxiety Index®

A loss of sleep, income and trust revealed in the latest Marketplace-Edison Research Poll

David Brancaccio and Daniel Shin Oct 15, 2020
Heard on:
The Marketplace-Edison poll found that 30% of those who said that they have or will vote for Trump are not at all worried about COVID-19. Above, visitors in New Orleans walk past face mask signs along Decatur Street in July. Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Economic Anxiety Index®

A loss of sleep, income and trust revealed in the latest Marketplace-Edison Research Poll

David Brancaccio and Daniel Shin Oct 15, 2020
Heard on:
The Marketplace-Edison poll found that 30% of those who said that they have or will vote for Trump are not at all worried about COVID-19. Above, visitors in New Orleans walk past face mask signs along Decatur Street in July. Sean Gardner/Getty Images

More Americans are losing sleep over their current financial situations now compared to earlier in the year, according to the latest Marketplace-Edison Research Poll.

The October polling results show 35% of respondents are losing sleep over personal economic concerns. That’s close to the poll’s high of 39% before the 2016 election.

Pandemic-related issues such as income loss, layoffs, missed rent or mortgage payments are now being compounded by other stresses and uncertainties for respondents, like filing unemployment claims, complications with distance learning for their children and another contentious presidential election.

“The pandemic period, and all the uncertainties that it’s creating for people, is just creating so much stress, so much uncertainty,” said Larry Rosin, co-founder and president of Edison Research, during an interview with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio.

When respondents were asked if they could pay an unexpected $250 bill, 47% said they would find it at least somewhat difficult to pay. More Black respondents, as well as Hispanic and Latinx respondents, said it would be very difficult to make such a payment compared to white respondents.

But despite relatively high levels of anxiety, 48% of respondents said their economic situations were better than four years ago.

“I think we just have big differences between how people see the last several years versus how they see the last several months,” Rosin said.

That positive outlook, however, was not reflected entirely in respondents’ attitudes toward President Donald Trump’s policies; 54.8% said they did not approve of the way he is running the economy, a potentially important factor heading into November’s election.

Below are edited excerpts from Rosin’s interview with Brancaccio. Click the audio player above to hear the full interview.

Are you better off than 4 years ago?

David Brancaccio: Strange times, right? More than a third of the people we found are losing sleep because of their financial situation, yet the survey you did asked about people’s personal financial situation. Forty-eight percent said it’s better than four years ago. What gives?

Larry Rosin: I think we just have big differences between how people see the last several years versus how they see the last several months. And of course, as we picked up in May, it seems to really be continuing. The pandemic period, and all the uncertainties that it’s creating for people, is just creating so much stress, so much uncertainty, and in many cases, like you said, causing them to lose sleep at night, as well as many other aspects of what makes people anxious.

Brancaccio: So, so many people feel they’re better off than four years ago, but still disapprove of President Trump’s handling of the economy?

Rosin: Yeah, that was one of the really interesting dualities of what we saw in the data. You know, there’s the classic formulation, Ronald Reagan in 1980 in his debate with Jimmy Carter famously said, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” And according to this polling, the large majority of Americans say, “You know what, I am better off than I was four years ago.” And you would think that normally that would be the kind of thing that would really portend well for someone to be reelected. However, at the same time, a significant majority of people say they disapprove of President Trump’s handling of the economy. We’ve asked this in every iteration of our poll going back into the Obama administration. And the current numbers for President Trump are the worst he has seen. They were worse than we ever saw when we asked about President Obama, so we do have this interesting story where people say, “I actually feel better off in general than four years ago, but I am not happy with the leadership of the president when it comes to the economy.”

Living paycheck to paycheck

Brancaccio: We’re talking about people’s personal financial situation, but then you get, you know, “how are you doing” kind of questions. We asked about, for instance, would you find it difficult or somewhat difficult to pay an unexpected expense of $250. That’s like your alternator going. And 47% say it would be difficult or somewhat hard to come up with that kind of money.

Rosin: Like you imply, $250 for many people is the kind of unexpected expense that you may run into with some regularity. And to learn that 47% of all Americans say it would be at least somewhat difficult to pay an unexpected amount, 16% saying would be very difficult, and you just see how close to the edge many, many people are living. In particular Black respondents to our survey, 23% said it would be very difficult. So you know, there’s large segments of American society who are living paycheck to paycheck, and any disruptions can really mess up their plans. And of course, we’re living in a time where there are so many disruptions. So it’s just a real expression of just how much nervousness and concern there is out there.

David Brancaccio: Yeah, disruptions like you lose your job. You asked about, did you try to file for unemployment benefits? And the answer is yes from a lot of people.

Rosin: Yes. So not surprisingly, a lot of people said that they have tried to file for unemployment. And a very concerning number of people say, “I tried, and I was unsuccessful in getting unemployment benefits.” Fifteen percent of people in our survey said that they successfully got unemployment. And 13% said they applied and were unsuccessful in getting unemployment. So combined 28% saying that they are looking for unemployment benefits and just over half succeeding. So I think that says a lot about, first of all, just the level of distress that’s out there. But secondly, about some consideration needs to be made for what exactly are unemployment benefits and who qualifies and when can they qualify, etc.

Brancaccio: And then even among people who were able to keep jobs, or find new jobs, the survey shows many of us are sacrificing careers to take on the added demands of, you know, everything that’s happening these days.

Rosin: It’s true across the board, but it’s especially true for parents of school-aged children, many of whom have had to juggle all the pressures of parenting that normally exist with work and then multiply that out by their kids being schooled from home, etc. We’ve found sizeable numbers of both men and women saying that they’ve had to make sacrifices in their jobs or their careers in order to manage the increased burdens on their lives. We did find the not surprising but always interesting point that women were much more likely to say that the burden has fallen entirely on them. Men were much more likely to say that they were sharing in the burden, which is the classic thing that we see, but it’s always interesting to see how persistent it is. It does speak to the fact that in male-female couples, the perception is not always the same.

Brancaccio: Yeah, just to be clear, a lot of men said, “Oh yeah, I’m sharing equally with my partner,” and fewer women said it was equal.

Rosin: Yes, the overwhelming majority of women said, “No, the burden is falling primarily on me.” Unlike the men who said, “Oh no, I’m sharing equally.”

Brancaccio: Look at this, you found of people with school-aged children, 49% of those students were being schooled online remotely only. That’s nearly half. You know, when we talked about the results of the previous survey in the spring, most of us thought, “Oh, it’ll be another couple of weeks or another couple months,” and here we are in the fall.

Rosin: Yeah, it’s really amazing to see how things have changed. Obviously, for a lot of people, they’re facing an entire new school year that could be fully online all the way into next spring. And I think it’s going to remain to be seen all the impacts it’s going to have on the children themselves, on families, on their economies as we like to track in our surveys. It’s going to be decades, I suppose, before we can unspool everything we’re looking at here. But we’re talking about one of the most important fundamental changes in life that we’ve seen in decades.

White men less woried about COVID

Brancaccio: Can we rest for a moment, Larry, on one Marketplace-Edison Research finding? You asked this: How much do you worry about COVID-19? A lot? A little? Not at all? What did you find?

Rosin: Well, we found that about half of everyone says they worry a lot, 51%. But what’s really interesting to me is that 17% said that they are not at all worried about COVID-19. In particular, white men and people who say they intend to vote for President Trump in the fall are much more likely to say they are not at all worried about COVID-19.

Brancaccio: I’m looking at the grid here, among those who said that they have or will vote for President Trump, 30%, three-zero percent, said they do not worry about COVID-19 at all.

Rosin: Yeah. And it’s going to be interesting to dig in deeper to the data to get a sense for who are these people and why aren’t they worried? I’m sure there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not worried. But one of the things I think we’re gonna want to learn a lot more about is how have you come to the point where you’re not at all worried about this virus?

Is the economic system rigged?

Brancaccio: You asked people if the economic system is rigged or if it’s fair. What did you ask and what did you find? I want to understand this.

Rosin: Right. So it was a straight binary choice. Would you say the economic system in the United States is rigged in favor of certain groups or fair to all Americans? And the results were just so, so interesting. In round numbers, two-thirds of Americans say it’s rigged. And one-third say it’s fair. But what is really interesting is how it’s changed depending on who you intend to vote for. Four years ago, huge majorities in both cases, whether you were supporting Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, agreed that the system was rigged in favor of certain groups. Here we are four years later, and while the total is the same, everything has changed with regard to who you’re supporting for president. So among those who say they’ve already voted for or intend to vote for Joe Biden, 86% say that the system is rigged in favor of certain groups. And now only 33% of people who say they’ve already voted for or intend to vote for President Trump say it is rigged in favor of certain groups.

Brancaccio: Cleared the swamp, I guess. I mean, do you have any theories for what might account for this shift? I mean, overall, not a shift, but ideologically, you know, who you’re asking, a big shift.

Rosin: Right. And I think it just speaks to the nature of who is supporting President Trump and who supported him four years ago, as well. And I think it’s easy to forget how big an aspect of his victory was this sense for groups that historically felt they hadn’t been heard by a politician, did feel that President Trump or then candidate Trump four years ago, could hear them. And when he spoke to white people without a college education, that really resonated with them. And so I think you could look through the data and say that is the group that not only continues to support President Trump, but feels that he has essentially tried to unwind a lot of these things that were working against them. The problem is, the opposing group now more than ever believes that things are unfair.

Brancaccio: We’ll be reporting more deeply on this to try to get more to the bottom of it, but I assume that there’s going to be some on the left who think it’s rigged in favor of corporations or rigged in favor of the affluent 1%? I suppose some people may have heard your question about is it rigged or is it fair, the economic system, during this national conversation on race and hear the question as: Does the system advantage white people and disadvantage, for instance, Black people? I mean, it’s possible this question is being heard through that filter.

Rosin: There’s little doubt, yes, the various groups of people of color, nonwhite populations, they are much more likely to feel that the system is rigged. And so it’s clear that it’s not just related to taxes and not just even related to President Trump, but clearly the racial issues that have come to the fore over the last six months and all the discussion that’s been so rapid and advanced over this time is playing into this perception of a system that is rigged.

Trust and federal economic data

Brancaccio: Four years ago in this Marketplace-Edison Research Poll, many conservatives questioned the veracity of government statistics about the economy, right? We talked about it on the radio, we reported on this striking skepticism and disbelief in the numbers. Now, in this latest poll, you ask again, and it’s Biden’s supporters who are not believing the numbers?

Rosin: Yeah, it’s really kind of an amazing game of who do you trust. Four years ago, those who said that they plan to vote for now-President Trump, 48% of them said they don’t trust data from the federal government at all. Four years later, with President Trump leading the federal government, or at least the executive branch, that 48 has become seven. So they went from not believing anything to essentially everyone believing it. And now, most people say they fully or somewhat trust the data that they get from the federal government if they intend to vote for President Trump. Meanwhile, not terribly surprisingly, those who support the Democratic candidate have flipped pretty much just the same. So four years ago, only 5% of Clinton supporters said they didn’t trust data from the federal government at all. Among people who say they voted for or intend to vote for [former] Vice President Biden, that number is up to 24%. And a majority of them say they either somewhat or not at all trust the data from the federal government. So trusting the government seems to be entirely related to who is in charge of that government, especially in charge of the executive branch.

Brancaccio: Yeah, if you’re thinking about the Biden supporters who are no longer trusting the government information, I suppose after accounts of the Trump administration trying to influence, for instance, policy at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or at the Environmental Protection Agency, I guess maybe some think it’s less of a stretch for some to believe government statisticians are being influenced — not suggesting they are, but in this land of perceptions, right?

Rosin: Right. And the overwhelming amount of evidence shows that in particular people at institutions like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government bureaus that are producing statistics about the economy, these are honest traders, these are lifelong workers whose only job is to put out correct data about the government. And honestly, they don’t even care who is sitting in the White House, they only care about getting the data correct. But you see that everything comes through a filter. And four years ago, the filter was that the Obama administration was lying about their data among people who intended to vote for Trump. Four years later, the people who intend to vote for Biden don’t trust the data coming from the Trump White House. And you could argue this as a sorry state of affairs, but at least polling puts it in front of us and we can understand the situation we’re in.

Check out the full poll results here, and read more about our methodology below:

The Marketplace-Edison Research Poll is a national survey of Americans 18 and older. A total of 1,647 respondents were interviewed, with 725 interviews conducted by telephone and 922 interviews conducted online. The interviews were conducted from Sept. 25 through Oct. 8, 2020, in both English and Spanish. For purposes of analysis, respondents who identify as Black or Hispanic/Latino were oversampled and then weighted back to their proper proportion of all adults.  

The data was weighted to match the most recent United States population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau for age, gender, race, income and region of the country.

Asian Americans are included and represented in the poll findings, but we did not oversample in a way that would allow us to analyze this group discretely. 

Editor’s note: While our poll asked respondents to identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, we’ve changed the language here to Latinx to reflect Marketplace’s editorial guidelines. 

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