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Poll: More Americans optimistic about economy

Almost 30% optimistic about the economy

WASHINGTON – Some Americans are beginning to see the light at the end of a long tunnel.

For the past two weeks, the percentage of respondents in The Gallup Poll who say the economy is getting better has been steadily ticking up. Monday through Wednesday, 29 percent took the optimistic view – the highest number since July 2007.

That doesn’t mean everyone’s outlook is rosy – 66 percent continue to say the economy is getting worse – but it does signal a significant improvement in public attitudes after nearly two years of downbeat forecasts. The percentage seeing better times ahead has nearly doubled since March 9, when 15 percent said the economy was improving and 78 percent said it was getting worse.

During that time, the stock market has been on the rebound and a few positive economic reports, including a rise in durable goods orders and new home sales, have been released. Funds from the $787 billion stimulus package are beginning to be dispersed, and President Obama in recent days has noted what he calls encouraging signs in the economy.

“There are a number of forces coming together to generate that optimism,” says Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University-Channel Islands. “No. 1, clearly, is the stock market.”

Among the demographic groups showing the most dramatic increase in optimism are those earning $90,000 a year or more, the top income group and the one most likely to own stocks.

The poll of 1,473 adults Monday-Wednesday by land-line and cell phone has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Assessments of the economy continue to be dreadful. Just 9 percent say the economy is excellent or good, while 57 percent call it poor. Those surveyed aren’t more likely to say their employers are hiring or that they’re spending more money in stores.

Even so, more positive predictions about the economy’s future could be a harbinger of change on other fronts.

“Attitudes are the easy things to move,” says Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. “Actual real-world change, on retail spending and jobs, I think will follow. How quickly they will follow, we’ll wait and see, but it’s reasonable that attitudes would move first.”

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