How Are Americans Feeling about Their Own Circumstances Now, David Plouffe?

Perhaps I’m getting tiresome with this point, but sorry, I’m going to make it again.

Two months ago, David Plouffe dismissed the possibility that the unemployment rate would have any effect on Obama’s reelection chances. He (correctly) noted that people judged the President’s performance on the economy by their assessment of how the economy is doing for them.

Problem is, he claimed that people’s perception of how they were doing was improving.

The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers.

In fact, those terms very rarely pass their lips. So it’s a very one-dimensional view. They view the economy through their own personal prism. You see, people’s — people’s attitude towards their own personal financial situation has actually improved over time. You know, they’re still concerned about the long-term economic future of the country, but it’s things like “My sister was unemployed for six months and was living in my basement and now she has a job.” There’s a — a “help wanted” sign. You know, the local diner was a little busier this week. Home Depot was a little busier. These are the ways people talk about the economy. [my emphasis]

Only, people’s impression of the economy isn’t improving over time. In fact, they’re pretty pessimistic about the economy.

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had improved slightly in July, plummeted in August. The Index now stands at 44.5 (1985=100), down from 59.2 in July. The Present Situation Index decreased to 33.3 from 35.7. The Expectations Index decreased to 51.9 from 74.9 last month.


Says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center: “Consumer confidence deteriorated sharply in August, as consumers grew significantly more pessimistic about the short-term outlook. The index is now at its lowest level in more than two years (April 2009, 40.8).


Consumers’ short-term outlook deteriorated sharply in August. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased to 11.8 percent from 17.9 percent, while those expecting business conditions to worsen surged to 24.6 percent from 16.1 percent. Consumers were also more pessimistic about the outlook for the job market. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased to 11.4 percent from 16.9 percent, while those expecting fewer jobs increased to 31.5 percent from 22.2 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes declined to 14.3 percent from 15.9 percent.

I take no glee in this crappy report. but I do think it’s a pretty accurate read of how people feel about their own personal circumstances and I do agree with Plouffe that this is the economic measure people make when considering whom to vote for.

So I really hope Plouffe stops trying to claim things are great when they really aren’t.

19 replies
  1. prostratedragon says:

    No, please harp on. It has been as if we’re supposed to learn to accept high single-digit unemployment and the rest of it as normal for our time. Noisy objection, pointing out repeatedly that the public disagrees quite strongly, etc., will make it harder for that one to take hold.

  2. scribe says:

    Just remember: the question presented by this coming election is whether a president who tolerated this high level of unemployment and did nothing (other than cut taxes for those few who did choose to hire) about it, should have that conduct ratified by being given a second term.

    If the populace answers “yes” – which is what Plouffe (and Obama’s corporate funders/masters) wants – then addressing the needs of the unemployed and, by extension, the populace as a whole, rather than the whims of the aristocracy, will never again be a requirement for politicians.

    If the populace answers “no”, we get (1) some hairball coughed up by the Republican faction of the corporatocracy, (2) more of the same shit, only on steroids, (3) rid of Obama, (4) an opportunity to redirect the Democratic party back to being a party of the people.

    Right now, I’m sitting this one out in the hope that my absence along with many, many others’ will get rid of Obama. I lived through Bush, and I can live through the next Rethuglican hairball.

  3. Nomolos says:

    Keep on harping. I am going to vent.

    My neighbour’s daughter, a very bright and personable young woman is destined for Boston Univ. and wants to pursue archeology, could not find a job this summer. To say that she was depressed about it would be to seriously understate the situation. She was hoping to have a few extra dollars to spend as it is a serious struggle for her parent even though the young woman has some scholarship monies. Now she heads to Boston seriously short of money for her pocket. Her parent is doing all she can to raise a few bucks, a yard sale raised some.

    I cannot tell you how bloody angry I am and I sincerely wish I could do something for her but I, like most others I know, am stretched and stressed myself. This is a dreadful situation, that a young woman headed for what will surely be a very bright career, cannot get a summer job, even as a waitress in a vacation town, is absolutely appalling.

    Economy recovery, bull shit. These ivory tower politicians that drive around in their limos and view the country from their private jets have not a clue as to what is going on in the “real” world and give not a damn anyway.

    Keep harping I say.

  4. John Forde says:

    I just got around to reading Simon Johnson’s brilliant 2 year old article looking at the financial crisis’s of nations over the last 20 years.
    Here is a 3 part summary:
    1 Oligarchs over leverage bringing the banking system to insolvency (sound familiar?)
    2 Govts squeeze taxpayers to bailout the oligarchs – things fail to improve (sound familiar?)
    3 Govts squeeze oligarchs and recovery begins (the U.S. is not there yet)

  5. Peterr says:

    I’m going to hazard a guess that most of the people Plouffe deals with are employed, and relatively happily so.

    I’m going to guess that most of the homes in Plouffe’s neighborhood are occupied, rather than standing vacant after a foreclosure.

    I’m going to guess that most of the shopping that Plouffe does isn’t at Wal-Mart, the Dollar Store, or thrift shops and resale places.

    I’m going to guess that Plouffe hasn’t recently been inside a soup kitchen, a food pantry, a free health clinic, or an emergency assistance center, to see the ever-growing lines of people looking for help.

    Either Plouffe lives in a bubble, or he wants us to ignore our lying eyes and simply clap harder. Or, of course, both.

  6. Tom in AZ says:

    I see many people every day who have survived the recession. A lot of them look like I feel, which is ‘the recovery is slowly burying me.’ People that were paying down debt as fast as possible are using credit for essentials, things they used to pay for every month are rolling over to what credit cards they have left.

    It won’t take much to start the cascading collapse for a lot of us.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @Peterr: Well, he lives in DC. That by itself increases the chance that the folks he sees are employed and optimistic (recognizing there are a lot of people who are hurting in the OTHER 3 quadrants of DC).

  8. Tom in AZ says:


    I emailed you a link to a story about the Sinaloa Cartel and Iraqi immigrants in San Diego. You had recently written about Sinaloa and the ‘terrorist organization’ designation, so I thought you might want to see it.

    • bmaz says:

      Tom, I know the incident and article you are referring to. At least to me, it is more significant for the fact it shows the Sinaloa Cowboys actually partnering with others (they are notorious for being self contained) than it is the “Iraqis” because the Iraqis were a very much Americanized group, long around on the radar. They are more really just an ethnic group of Americans at this point.

  9. NMvoiceofreason says:

    @Tom in AZ:

    We are at our limit. Savings are gone.

    We are both long term un-employed. Benefits end in October.

    Son just crashed our second car yesterday. Total loss. Probably have to use the check to survive for another month.

    Then what?

  10. Katherine Baldwin says:

    My situation is improving as my husband just got a great job with a bright future but it means he will live in another state from our son and I. We are not in a position to relocate from a heavy mortgage(but solar and efficient home)so he will commute home on weekends when he can. People are not doing better, they are making do with bad circumstances. I am the least enthusiastic about an election than I have been since the 1970s.

  11. Bob Schacht says:

    “My neighbour’s daughter, a very bright and personable young woman is destined for Boston Univ. and wants to pursue archeology, could not find a job this summer. To say that she was depressed about it would be to seriously understate the situation. ”

    I am a retired archaeologist, trained at the University of Michigan. Most of the jobs these days in that field are in Cultural Resource Management and related fields. I would encourage her to stick to her interest in archaeology, but to back it up by acquiring skill in some very different profession. Those undergraduate years are extremely valuable in broadening your interests and finding out what you’re good at. Don’t squander the opportunity!

    In my case, I spent the first ten years of my career trying to be a professional archaeologist. Although my first job lasted 4 years, my second job lasted 2 years, and my third job lasted only a year. If you know anything about mathematical progressions, you can see the trend. After a period of unemployment, I sold myself as a demographer (based on some work with archaeological demography, which is an entirely different field), and slid sideways into research about American Indians with disabilities. Research was more compatible with my personality than teaching, so I spent the last 20 years of my career in rehabilitation research.

    The irony is that about 10 years ago, I found out that some of my overseas archaeological work, done in the 1970s, is still relevant because of political conditions abroad, so in retirement I am once again working (without pay) on my field research from the 1970s for publication, with the assistance of a colleague who is more up to date on our specialty than I am. I enjoy this return to my early career interests. Life can have some funny bounces.

    Bob in AZ

  12. Bob Schacht says:

    “So I really hope Plouffe stops trying to claim things are great when they really aren’t.”

    Running for re-election is an entirely different thing than running for election. The first time, you get to run as an outsider, and can focus attention on how bad things are. But when running for re-election, you can’t do that, especially if you are president.

    Plouffe is sounding optimistic *because he has to.* If he was more realistic, as you seem to want, Wall Street might tank, and things might get worse just because he’s not being optimistic.

    What I hope is that Plouffe is not trying to peddle such twaddle to Obama himself, who should realize that he is in serious trouble on the economy.

    Obama is in a catch-22 situation: in order to sell a jobs package that is big enough to make a difference, he can’t sound too optimistic or he won’t be able to get his package through Congress. But if he becomes brutally realistic about the economy, that tarnishes his own record as manager of the nation’s economy, and opens the door for his Republican critics. Or, to get all classical on you, he needs to steer carefully between Scylla and Charybdis (

    Bob in AZ

  13. BeccaM says:

    Gee… I wonder what happened in August which could have impacted confidence so much and so negatively?

    Plouffe completely and deliberately ignores the rotting elephant carcass in the room: The debt ceiling debacle.

    The GOPers made it clear they are willing and ofttimes eager to burn down the entire country if they do not get every single thing on their radical wingnut agenda. Meanwhile, Obama and the Dems made it clear they will concede to whatever the GOPers want, and will forgo any meaningful effort to reduce the unemployment rate and boost declining workers’ wages, refused to demand the wealthy sacrifice one thin dime and worst of all, put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cutting.

  14. Sojourner says:

    @NMvoiceofreason: I was laid off 2.5 years ago and it took me 14 months to find another job. I am 58 years old, and I know that that worked against me in every interview (I have white hair that cannot be covered up ;-)). I have finally gotten resettled in another position, but the savings went, the credit went… Wife decided she did not want to do it any longer and she left. I now have a house that I owe more on than it is worth. In a way, I just have to sit back and laugh.

    Keep the faith!

  15. Bob Schacht says:


    Hey, my wife colors my hair to keep it from turning white. There are lots of products that will help you do this. Just don’t use any that have lead in them (i.e., Grecian Formula). Unless you don’t care about your cognitive abilities.

    Bob in AZ

  16. P J Evans says:

    If there’s a bright spot in this mess, it’s that most people outside of the Beltway know what’s actually needed and are saying so. (Reading the newspaper comments on Cantor’s stand on FEMA tells you that he’s on the very-tine-minority side of that argument. Generally, many people aren’t buying the R arguments any more.)

Comments are closed.