Reuters/Zogby Poll Finds Dampened Mood

American confidence has fallen to a new low of 87.7 from last month's 99.3, according to John Zogby. The poll follows several days of dramatic economic headlines about investment bank bailouts, weeks of news concerning the credit crunch and months of coverage about escalating prices at the pump. Zogby says public confidence in the economy is eroding.

"And perceptions are very, very important. And what you have is this relationship between the news agenda, which of course is dominated by economic news--and not simply by numbers and indicators, but real-life stories of home mortgages and denials of loans and inabilities to get loans and so on. And then meanwhile, you also have people's lives. I mean, if people were watching this on the news and saying, 'well, you know, that's other people, but things are fine with me,' this was the month when the two converged, that 'bad news is here and it's not so good for me, either.'"

Escalating gasoline prices are hitting consumers personally, and often--whenever they pay at the pump.

"You know, and over the last few years, we've asked Americans what the watershed is, you know, 'what is the threshold level for you, as far as prices at the pump are concerned, that might make you change your behavior?' And generally what we would get is $4 a gallon. Well, let's call it close enough this month."

As worries about personal finances grow, families are rethinking the budget, spending less, making fewer trips to restaurants. The poll shows that most Americans believe the recession is here.

"Seventy-four per cent is the number--20 points higher in one month. To give a plug to my colleagues at Gallup and Ipsos, we all seem to have come up with that same 74 percent, not 72, 73 or 76. So that number seems pretty hard and fast. About three out of four people say we're in a recession."

Despite the run of bad economic news, Zogby says he's an optimistic person.

"By nature, I am, as a matter of fact. And sure, we will get out of this. We'll get out of this funk, and then we will also get out of the economic straits. I'm not an economist, but I think we have, you know, six or seven months of negative feelings. They may go up or down a little bit, but they'll be with us for a while, it looks like."

Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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