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Americans’ Attitude Toward Recession Shows Mix of Optimism, Despair

A new poll reveals that many Americans are more optimistic and confident about the general economy's recovery than they are about their own personal financial situations. The Hotline's Amy Walter assesses the new data.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The nation's mood has been difficult to peg during this economic crisis, and a new New York Times-CBS News poll out today shows why.

    On one hand, there is growing optimism about where the nation is going, with 35 percent of those surveyed expressing confidence and 44 percent only somewhat uneasy about where the economy is headed over the next few months.

    On the other hand, when citizens were asked about their personal finances, they were pessimistic, with 70 percent of respondents saying they are somewhat or very worried that someone in their home might be jobless within a year.

    What explains that difference in attitude? For that, we turn to Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal's political daily.

    Amy, how can these two views co-exist?

    AMY WALTER, editor-in-chief, The Hotline: Well, I think the first thing to recognize is, just imagine what place we're at when we're saying in just our nation's time here economically, when we're saying that 39 percent of voters thinking that the country is headed in the right direction is actually good news, considering the fact that it was down at some point, at least back in the fall of last year, it was down to single digits, people thinking that things were headed in the right direction.

    So the fact that we're up into the 30s is a big improvement, but still not a whole lot of people…

  • GWEN IFILL:

    It's relative.

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right, it's relative, in terms of how people are feeling. I think the bottom line is — and I'm not the student of history as much as some others may be — but I think, when you look back and you think about where Americans fall in terms of the optimism spectrum, we're always tilted more so I think than so many other countries toward thinking that around the bend things are going to get better, that we may be hitting the bottom or things may be bad now, but we've got to and we want to believe that things are going to be better once we turn the page.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    How much of this is about who is leading rather than how that person is leading?

  • AMY WALTER:

    I think that's a good question and probably a little bit of both. Part of it is, I think there's a sense from voters and Americans out there that at least we have a president who is doing something.

    They may not see that there are tangible results for what's happening right now, but they do see a president that is literally moving legislation through Congress, that is literally moving around the world, around the country, looks very active.

    This is not somebody who's isolated himself. Remember, we think about those last couple of months of the Bush administration. He would come out once a day, make a statement about the economy, go back in to the White House. This is a president who says, "I'm doing something."

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