AP-NORC poll: US economic outlook rises after relief law

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President Joe Biden delivers a speech on infrastructure spending at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – Views of the nation’s economy are the rosiest they’ve been since the pandemic began more than a year ago, buoyed by Democrats feeling increasingly optimistic as President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package is distributed across the country.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs finds 46% of Americans overall now view the economy as good, up from the 37% who felt that way last month. Views of the economy had tanked at the onset of the pandemic in April last year, when 29% said it was in good shape.

Fifty-eight percent of Democrats now describe economic conditions as good, compared with 35% of Republicans. Democratic sentiments about the economy improved after Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House, with optimism increasing even further after he signed his landmark relief package into law.

Just 15% of Democrats felt positive about the economy in December, but 41% did in February. Among Republicans, positive views plummeted from 67% in December to 35% by February.

Americans might yearn for cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, but they also acknowledge the persistent divide as the economy has begun to heal from the coronavirus.

“I would like to see a lot more cooperation between the two parties,” said Leo Martin, 84, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a former community college teacher. “But I’m afraid it’s going to be similar to the last four years with the two parties not working together. I blame this not just on Donald Trump, but on the press that supported Trump and egged him on. I think it was divided before and just got progressively worse.”

Americans’ improved outlook generally reflects the favorable impressions of Biden’s relief package and the mass vaccinations that have allowed more schools, offices and retailers to reopen. Based on economic forecasts, Biden suggested last week that growth this year could top 6% — the strongest performance in 37 years. That level of growth would likely come with enough hiring to boost national morale, potentially softening some of the polarization that has defined U.S. politics for more than a decade.

The poll shows 54% of Americans approve of the economic relief law, while 25% disapprove. An additional 21% say they hold neither opinion. Large majorities approve of many of the law’s components, including vaccination funding, direct payments of $1,400 and extended unemployment insurance, funding for schools to reopen, aid for families and housing payment assistance.