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Just weeks after President Obama proclaimed that America had turned the corner and his "middle class economics" was working, the public is more pessimistic than they've been in months, and few think Obama's policies have significantly helped the middle class, the latest IBD/TIPP poll finds.

 

The IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index dropped 7.8% to 47.5 this month, erasing most of the gains in December and January. Anything below 50 means the public is pessimistic.

Other poll results show the public growing more concerned, not less, about the economy.

The share who think the economy is in a recession, for example, climbed three points to 40% in February. And 43% now say the economy is not improving, up from 37% in last month's poll. In addition, 54% now say they're dissatisfied with current federal economic policies, up from 50% last month.

These findings stand in sharp contrast to Obama's depiction of the economy in his State of the Union address, in which he extolled strong growth "after a breakthrough year for America."

And they defy what appeared to be a series of upbeat government reports on the economy, including healthy job growth in January.

"There are four reasons behind the decline in the Optimism Index," said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica, which conducts the monthly IBD/TIPP poll. "First, gasoline prices may not have the power to sustain a high degree of confidence, and those prices are beginning to increase. The weather also has not been kind, which can impact the earning potential of many. Third, the job market may still be soft coming off the holiday season, which means retailers may be cutting back temporary employment. Finally, the stock market is under pressure."

Gasoline Prices Rising

Retail gas prices, while sharply lower from a year earlier, have risen for 15 straight days through Tuesday, for a total of 15 cents a gallon, according to AAA data.

On the jobs front, the poll found that 25% now say that at least one person in their household is currently looking for full-time work. That's up from 18% in January, and last year's 20% average.

"In addition, 29% of households are concerned that a member of their household may lose a full-time job," Mayur notes. "When we combine the two, the result is that 38% of households are what we call 'job sensitive.'" That, too, is up from last month.

The public also isn't buying Obama's claim that his "middle class economics" policies are succeeding, despite the fact that Obama has barnstormed the country over the past three weeks making this case.

"What we know is middle-class economics works," is how Obama put it in remarks to a Philadelphia audience.

However, 53% say Obama's policies have not significantly improved the economic situation of middle-class Americans. Just 42% say they have.

While there's a clear partisan gap — 72% of Democrats say Obama has helped the middle class while just 20% of Republicans believe that — independents are also unimpressed. Nearly two-thirds of independents (62%) say Obama's policies haven't significantly helped middle-class families, while only a third say they have.

No Help For Middle Class

What's more, those with incomes that put them squarely in the middle class are the most likely to feel Obama has let them down.

Fully 59% of those making between $50,000 and $75,000 say Obama hasn't helped the middle class much, and 56% of those making $30,000 to $50,000 feel this way. Fewer than half (49%) of those making more than $75,000 say he hasn't helped.

February's IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index fell about 13% for the two middle-class groups. Meanwhile, the reading fell a smaller 6% for those making $75,000 or more, while it actually rose 2.5% for those making less than $30,000.

The slump in the public's view of the economy hasn't affected Obama's approval ratings. The IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership Index rose 0.1 point to 44.6, the fourth straight monthly gain but still well below the 50 level.

Other findings in the February IBD/TIPP poll:

  • •52% oppose Obama's executive action granting asylum to more than 5 million illegal immigrants, and of those, 67% are unhappy with Congress' response.
  • •57% favor raising taxes on the rich to pay for middle-class benefits, but support drops to just 41% if such tax hikes result in fewer jobs.
  • •People from Democratic states are slightly more likely to complain that their taxes are too high than those from Republican-dominated states — 49% to 43%. What's more, 59% of those in the liberal Northeast say their taxes are too high, compared with 47% of those from the more conservative South.

Separately, the National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday that its small-business optimism index sank 2.5 points in January to 97, defying forecasts for a small rise.

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