A couple of weeks ago, I had a post about perceptions of economic conditions. Contrary to what is often said, they are not all that negative now. I noted that even in October 2008, they were not nearly as unfavorable as they'd been at several times in the past. They did briefly fall to very low levels--for example, in a poll taken September 27-30 only 2% said the economy was getting better and 76% said it was getting worse, but they bounced back quickly. By October 17-19, it was 5% better and 54% worse: that is much more favorable than during the mild recession of 1990, and about the same as October-November 1987, which was not a recession at all. In that post, I promised an explanation for this (relative) optimism, so here it is.
Perceptions are related to party identification--if you're a supporter of the President's party, your assessment is more favorable. Moreover, the relationship seems to be considerably stronger than it was in the past. For example, compare July 1996 and August 2012. In 1996, 12% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats thought conditions were getting better; in 2013, 6% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats thought things were getting better. The overall scores (favorable minus unfavorable) were similar, -11 in 1996 and -5 in 2013. But that hides offsetting shifts in opposite directions: supporters of the President's party (Democrats) were a lot more favorable in 2013 and supporters of the opposition (Republicans) were a lot more negative. I think that explains why assessments of the economy were not that negative during the "great recession"--partisan loyalty kept the rating from falling too low. In principle, it seems likely that this would be symmetrical--that ratings will never get all that favorable, because supporters of the other party would be slow to acknowledge that the economy was doing well. However, in order to test that, we'd need to have a real economic boom, which hasn't happened in this century and is unlikely to happen in the near future.
[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]