Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are we downhearted?

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll question:  "As you may know, the United States went through a depression in the 1930s in which roughly one out of four workers were unemployed, banks failed across the country, and millions of ordinary Americans were temporarily homeless or unable to feed their families. Do you think it is very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not likely at all that another depression like that will occur in the US within the next 12 months?"

                       Oct 2008  Oct 2008   Dec 2008   Mar 2009  July 2009  Dec 2009
Very            21%      12%     10%     12%      12%     17%
Somewhat        38%      29%     28%     33%      29%     26%
Not very        29%      35%     41%     36%      36%     39%
Not likely      13%      24%     20%     18%      22%     19%

There was a substantial change between the first two surveys, which were only two weeks apart (Oct 3-5 and 17-19), but very little change since then.  I'm not even sure if the differences among the last five surveys are statistically significant.  (If you want to calculate it yourself, the sample sizes are about 1,000 for each survey).  After a year when the worst didn't happen, it would be reasonable to think that it wasn't going to happen in the next year.  But that wasn't how people reacted.  

The improvement over a two-week period in October 2008 is also interesting.  The TARP bill was signed into law on Oct 3.  Maybe the process leading up to that contributed to a sense of panic, and people just bounced back after a few weeks.  Or maybe something positive happened between early and mid-October that affected people's outlook, although I don't remember the history well enough to think of what that might be.

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