Is fear of an ‘American malaise’ eating Washington voters?

Aug 26, 2011

The latest polling of Washington voters shows that optimism has taken “nose dive” to an all-time low.

Voters surveyed in The Elway Poll – an independent, nonpartisan analysis of public opinion – were less likely to think things were “getting better” than at any time since the survey began in 1991.

The architect of the survey, Stuart Elway, said people may be openly entertaining the idea that America has entered a “malaise” or “a new normal” of long-term high unemployment, weak spending and, simply, a plain old bummer of an economy like the one Japan suffered for more than a decade.

The Elway Poll released yesterday reported: “The net shift in outlook for the country since January is negative 52 points: the number expecting things to get better is down 28 points, and the number expecting things to get worse is up 24 points.

“Loss of optimism for the country is the most significant, but there has been a net negative shift in all four indicators (outlook for the nation, state, community and household) since January.”

To learn more about what Elway thinks is eating Washington voters, we called him up:

KPLU: These numbers are from a couple of weeks ago … do you think the rash of bad news a couple of weeks ago could have given people a short-term negative outlook?

Elway: … as I point out … the numbers were all down in April compared to last December and they are down again so I think my overall take on this is that the duration of the economic problem in combination with the paralysis of the national political system is just taking its toll. We knew that they were bad, we thought things would be better by now, but they aren’t. We don’t see how they are going to get better. So it’s just kind of weighting people down the longer it goes on.

KPLU: In terms of how people express what their future is going to be like, and they have a more negative outlook on the future, what does that really mean?

Elway: I think there’s a question that people are sort of grappling with both individually and collectively and that is, “Is this the new normal?” Is it going to be like this now?

You know, the big boom time of the post war to the turn of the century, it’s a blip in history and it’s never going to come back like that. It never happened before. Everywhere else, around the world, things have leveled out and we’ve always been this exceptional powerhouse that seems to be leveling, so is this really a changed world or is this just a bump in the road, a fairly large bump in the road, but something that we are going to come back even stronger from? And I think the jury is out. 

KPLU: Well, it’s fairly alarming. You look at what happened to Japan when it hit its malaise, and I wonder if people don’t think that’s here too?

Elway: I think people have seen that and we used to think it wouldn’t happen here and now this has gone on much longer than we thought it would. So, the possibility is dawning that maybe it could happen here.

We don’t think it will, but there is a possibility now whereas before we didn’t think it was even possible. 

KPLU: And so in that way and in a lot of ways what gets reflected to you in this data is that we have this sort of low-grade but constant feeling that things may not get better and that’s how these feelings get reflected in the poll over time.

Elway: Yeah I think that’s a pretty good characterization.