Will the stimulus bill boost public confidence?

One goal of the $800-plus billion economic stimulus package is to give Americans a lift, a sense that Uncle Sam has a solution to today’s economic woes.

But will the plan provide a break from the steady onslaught of gloom – from a dizzy stock market to continuing problems of the big banks? Will it give people confidence to buy new cars or perhaps just splurge a little?

Some public opinion seers suggest it might help, perhaps showing that the new president and Congress can accomplish something. Other poll watchers, though, caution that the public has low expectations, with a large number of people feeling the package won’t have much effect on them.

By Ron Scherer
Christian Science Monitor

“It might be less than you hoped but better than nothing,” says Dennis Jacobe, chief economist at the Gallup Organization.

But pollster John Zogby says once President Obama signs the stimulus package, it can be viewed as action.

“The bottom line is Americans are looking for the president and Congress to get together and make something happen, and the action part is greater than the specifics,” says Mr. Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International.

Great expectations? No.

The most recent Gallup numbers certainly show the public has modest expectations. Only 12 percent think it will make the economy “a lot better,” and 32 percent believe it will make it “a little better.” However, 41 percent think it will have no effect and 12 percent think it will be worse.

“There can be some psychological effect but how long it can last is another issue,” says Mr. Jacobe.

Mr. Obama realizes he needs to build support for the massive bill. That’s one of the reasons he held a prime-time press conference on Monday evening to make his case for his approach and will travel Thursday to Peoria, Ill., after town hall meetings in Fort Myers, Fla., and Elkhart, Ind., earlier this week.

Past presidents have gone to the people to try to marshal support for their legislation. Zogby recalls former President Lyndon Johnson campaigning for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was not particularly popular among conservative members of Congress. “In his State of the Union address, he told them, ‘My predecessor [President John F. Kennedy] wanted this passed,’ and it was passed by April,” says Zogby, the author of the recent book, “The Way We’ll Be.”

Obama rhetoric

Jacobe says one of the problems for Obama is that to spur lawmakers he has had to talk about the depressed state of the economy. For example, in December, as president-elect he warned Americans that the economic news was going to get worse before it gets better.

“It’s really tough to get confidence in the future when you are dropping 150,000 jobs a week,” says Jacobe.

In Atlanta, some of the newly unemployed are only somewhat buoyed by the stimulus bill. Floyd Dorsey, who lost his job at a warehouse, says the stimulus bill amounts to a welcome “investment in America.”

But will it help his situation directly? “I don’t think so,” he says. “It’s not going to solve anything for a year or two.”

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