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Bush Approval, Consumer Confidence Hit New Lows

April 11, 2008

Three new surveys released today document the steep descent of President Bush, and with him, the American economy. While Bush's approval rating reached a new low of 28% in the AP poll, three quarters of economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal believe that the United States is in a recession that has yet to hit bottom. So it comes as no surprise that American consumer confidence spiraled down to its lowest level in 26 years.
Of course, there was little new in the dismal approval figures for President Bush. Bush has lingered in a permanent vegetative state around 30% for months. (An outlier poll from ARG in February showed Bush's approval rating had dipped to a shocking 19%.) But Americans' growing disdain for George W. Bush is being fueled by the deteriorating condition of the economy. As the AP/Ipsos poll showed:

Only 27 percent are happy with his job on the economy, which threatens to enter a recession and which many national surveys show is voters' top worry. That was worse than his previous low of 29 percent approval for handling the economy set in February, and down 4 percentage points from last month.

Those findings are mirrored in two new measure of American consumer confidence. The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers saw its preliminary index of confidence fell to 63.2 in April from 69.5 last month, the deepest trough since March 1982. Meanwhile, the RBC Cash Index confidence metric dropped to a mark of 29.5 in April, down from 33.1 in March. That level was the worst since the index began in 2002 and marked the fourth month in a row in which it has fallen to an all-time low. As Wachovia economist Mark Vitner put it:

"Consumers are very pessimistic. There are not a lot of happy campers out there."

With good reason. In March, unemployment surged to 5.1% as companies shed 80,000 more jobs in March on top of the 63,000 slashed in February Even as 47 million Americans now lack health care coverage, costs have continued to soar at double the rate of wage growth even as the percentage of employers providing insurance has plummeted below 60%. Meanwhile, energy costs continue to soar, with oil topping $100 a barrel as the price of gasoline hits new records. And making matters worse, the American people now face twin credit crises savaging the housing market and the U.S. financial system.
Carl Lantz, interest rate strategist at Credit Suisse in New York, summarized the grim news contained in the Reuters/Michigan consumer confidence report:

"It's really bad. It confirms what we already know now that we are in a consumer-led recession, and it's going to be a pretty protracted one."

Lantz and Vitner are from alone. According to a new Wall Street Journal survey of economists, the United States is already mired in recession and we have yet to see the worst of it. 73% said the U.S. has yet to hit bottom. Worse still, only 21% saw hom prices rebounding in 2008. As the Journal reported:

By a 3-to-1 ratio, respondents said the economy is in a recession, and almost three-quarters said the economy hasn't yet hit bottom. "It's hard to say," said Lou Crandall of Wrightson ICAP, because "it doesn't feel like anything we've experienced in decades."

That's because we haven't experienced anything like it in decades. As the New York Times detailed on Wednesday, President Bush has presided over the first post-World War II economic expansion in which Americans' median family income declined. That grim finding was confirmed in a Pew Research study released the same day, which similarly showed:

For decades, middle-income Americans had been making absolute progress while enduring relative decline. But since 1999, they have not made economic gains.

That stagnation of the American middle class is reflected in the response to Pew's question, "Are you better off now than five years ago?" The performance is the worst since surveys began in 1964: only 41% of American reported being better off now, while a record 31% said things were worse.
All of which helps explain the enduring unpopularity of George W. Bush. The war in Iraq and the disappearing American dream will be his dual legacies. Unlike President Bush, the numbers don't lie.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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