Hill Poll: Voters expect personal finances will improve, not economy

Likely voters are fairly confident that their personal financial situation will improve this year, even as 39 percent of them say they are less confident that the economy is improving, according to The Hill Poll.

Just over half of respondents — 52 percent — said they expect their personal finances to improve either a little or a lot over the next year, while 44 percent said they anticipated a downslide. 

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That faith was expressed even as just 32 percent of likely voters said they were more confident about the economy now than they were at the start of the year. Twenty-eight percent reported they felt about the same amount of confidence.

The poll, conducted on Thursday, came less than a week after the Labor Department reported the economy added only 120,000 jobs in March, the softest employment report of the current year. 

It also comes with the economy likely to take center stage in the presumed November matchup between President Obama and likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and illustrates the deep partisan divide over the economic recovery.

With Tax Day approaching on Tuesday, 45 percent of likely voters said their taxes have increased over the last year, while 35 percent said they have remained the same and only 12 percent said they have decreased.

And with Republicans and Democrats alike proposing changes in the tax code, voters appear to prefer returning to a Clinton-era top rate of 39.6 percent for the wealthiest taxpayers rather than a proposal recently floated by House Republicans that would drop the top rate to 25 percent. 

The poll of 1,000 likely voters, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research with a 3-point error margin, found that Republicans and conservatives were much more likely than liberals and Democrats to feel more pessimistic about both the state of the economy and their own checkbooks. 

In all, 63 percent of conservatives and 54 percent of Republicans predicted their personal finances would take a dive in the upcoming year. 

But 75 percent of Democrats and almost 80 percent of liberals believed their situation would improve in that same timespan. 

Roughly six in 10 liberals were also more confident about the economy than they were at the start of 2012, after employers added more than 200,000 jobs each month between December and February.

The unemployment rate (8.2 percent) is down to its lowest point since January 2009, the month Obama took office.

Still, following the March report, 62 percent of conservatives are less confident that the economy is improving.

Centrists also were more confident about the economy and their own financial condition than independents, while black voters were much more optimistic than whites on both questions. 

As for the tax code, half of voters said they could get behind returning the tax rate on the highest earners to 39.6 percent, where it stood during the Clinton administration and where President Obama would like it to return. 

Only 32 percent of voters embraced a plan to implement two brackets of 10 percent and 25 percent, a tax reform framework that House Republicans included in their most recent budget. 

Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) rejected the proposal, while a large share of respondents — 29 percent — said they weren’t sure about the two-bracket proposal, suggesting that many voters are still processing the GOP framework.

The House GOP has not specified the income thresholds for their two-bracket plan. 

But even Republicans with an opinion on the proposal haven’t exactly been won over, with GOP respondents basically split down the middle on the idea, with 36 percent in favor and 38 percent opposed, a statistical tie given the poll’s error margin. 

GOP lawmakers have said their plan to simplify the tax code would increase economic growth and help make the United States more competitive. But Democrats have charged that their framework would likely require the elimination of many tax incentives used by the middle-class, like the deduction for mortgage interest. 

Obama, meanwhile, has repeatedly said that he wants the Bush-era tax rates to expire for family income of more than $250,000 a year, which would mean an increase for those paying the current top rate of 35 percent.

Even so, voters making more than $100,000 a year were evenly split on both the 25 percent top bracket and the 39.6 bracket proposals.

Those making between $75,000 a year and $100,000 were the most supportive of the GOP proposal at 44 percent, while 60 percent of voters earning between $40,000 and $60,000 preferred returning to the Clinton-era top rate. 

Click here to see data from The Hill Poll.