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American optimism strong, survey says

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2008

Americans may be down, but not entirely out.

Only 11 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the nation — down 14 points in the past month alone and mostly prompted by dismay over the economic crisis, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

There's some proverbial Yankee resilience still left, perhaps.

"There is no evidence that fundamental American optimism has eroded in the face of the financial crisis. Even after a week of some of the largest stock market declines since the Great Depression, 64 percent of the public say that 'as Americans, we can always find ways to solve our problems and get what we want.' That is up from 59 percent since December 2004, shortly after the last presidential election," said Andrew Kohut, who directed the research.

"There is little indication that the nation's financial crisis has triggered public panic or despair," the survey said. "Most Americans express confidence that the government still possesses the power to fix the economy ... There has been no decline in people's perceptions of their own financial situations."

Indeed, 56 percent of the respondents said the federal government had the power to fix the economy, though that figure dropped 11 points since July. In addition, 41 percent rate their financial situation as excellent or good, virtually unchanged in the past three months. Fifty-nine percent said they expect their finances to improve over the next year, up from 51 percent in the same time period.

Some traditional Yankee frugality is also beginning to assert itself.

The survey also revealed that almost half said that "people should learn to live with less," the highest percentage number in almost 15 years.

Americans are taking action. Six out of 10 have cut back on vacation plans, 55 percent eat out less often and 48 percent are "changing" the way they save. Another four out of 10 have delayed big purchases, a third have delayed buying a new car. The outlook is sober, however, with 64 percent agreeing that "jobs were hard to find."

The respondents blame the sins of bloated consumer culture for the crisis, with 72 percent citing risky bank loans as the cause and 79 percent citing "people taking on too much debt."

There was a pronounced partisan difference here: 91 percent of Republicans blamed the debtors, compared with 74 percent of Democrats.

Which presidential hopeful benefits from these findings? Forty-seven percent said Sen. Barack Obama was best suited to handle the crisis while 33 percent cited Sen. John McCain. But another 20 percent said that neither candidate was up to the challenge.

The survey of 1,485 adults was conducted Oct. 9-12 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.