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Monday, November 30, 2009

Spending Watch -- What Americans Tell Us

As retailers and economy watchers try to make sense of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday data trickling in, we're totaling up the results of our daily consumer spending measure as well.

Our exact question asks: Next, we'd like you to think about your spending yesterday, not counting the purchase of a home, motor vehicle, or your normal household bills. How much money did you spend or charge yesterday on all other types of purchases you may have made, such as at a store, restaurant, gas station, online, or elsewhere?

It's an open-ended question and asking about "yesterday" helps respondents to give more precise responses. Data collected on Saturday reflect spending that occurred on Friday and so on. It's also important to note that the question focuses the respondent on discretionary spending and does include online spending.

In our story this afternoon, our Editor in Chief Frank Newport reviews the combined data reflecting Friday and Saturday (based on interviews conducted Saturday and Sunday), finding spending down 8.6% from the same Friday and Saturday last year.

In our lead story Tuesday morning, our Chief Economist Dennis Jacobe reviews the combined weekly results, which span Nov. 23-29, and thus include Friday and Saturday spending. Incredulously, spending was flat compared to the prior week and down 25% from a year ago. We did not interview Thanksgiving Day, so it excludes reports of purchases made on Wednesday, Nov. 25. (Update: Read the story.)

Interviewing Tuesday night will tell us how much Americans spent Monday, and in our weekly report next Tuesday, we'll be able to see if this week's payday brings a burst of better news.

Our daily, always available, chart includes both 3-day and 14-day rolling averages, the former to illustrate weekend and other near-term effects and the latter to see the bigger picture. Our Gallup Economic Weekly each Tuesday takes a weekly view to help us understand where we are this week compared to last week and compared to this week a year ago. All of it will be critical to watch over the coming month to see how this holiday season ultimately stacks up to last year.

Friday, November 27, 2009

For Obama, Numbers That Matter Now

It was a week ago today that we first found President Barack Obama's job approval rating below the 50% threshold at 49%. Save for one 48% in Nov. 19-21 interviewing, each of the last seven reporting periods have yielded the same results. *Note, we did not interview on Thanksgiving Day, so today's results reflect Monday-Wednesday interviewing. Saturday's results will reflect Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.


Seven days below 50% may seem like a new normal of sorts, but, frankly, it is too early to tell. Obama's biggest challenges are also his biggest opportunities to play a role in whether the current trend reverses or whether the lines ultimately touch and cross.

Here's a shortcut to the Gallup data on the three issues which arguably matter most in the near-term.

* Afghanistan: Americans currently lean more toward increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan than reducing them, 47% to 39%. So, if Obama chooses to send more troops, he'll enjoy more support than opposition, but with less than a majority behind the decision itself and 66% saying the situation there is going badly, it'll take results to get more than half of Americans on his side on that issue.

* Healthcare: Our data on Americans' views about healthcare are extensive and nuanced. Americans divide closely, 50% to 47%, on whether it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage. They rate U.S. healthcare coverage more positively than they did a year ago, but they see "access" as the most urgent problem. Our lead story for Monday morning reviews Americans' latest advice for Congress -- finding 49% against or leaning against reform and 44% for or leaning for it. Again, lawmakers please less than a majority either way. (Update: Read the story.)

* The Economy: It's picking up again as the most important problem. A majority (58%) name an economic issue as the most important problem facing the country, including 31% who say the economy in general and 20% who name unemployment. If these numbers keep ticking higher, while job creation and consumer spending continue to languish, it will be difficult for the president to post significant approval gains more broadly.

We expect to see action on each of these issues soon beginning with Obama's Tuesday announcement on Afghanistan, his Thursday forum on jobs, and floor debate in the U.S. Congress on healthcare.

Our most recent USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans to rate President Obama's job performance on seven specific issues: the economy, the situation in Afghanistan, healthcare policy, energy policy, terrorism, global warming and creating jobs. We'll report what we found on these measures next week, while, of course, continuing to track Obama's overall job approval rating daily. In the meantime, here's more on where Obama stands compared with other presidents with a long way to go.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Setting the Scene for Black Friday

A hot topic for the week is what to expect on "Black Friday." As analysts note, it's not just whether Americans turn out to shop on the much-hyped Friday after Thanksgiving, but how much their desire for bargains ultimately helps or hurts retailers' bottom lines.

Since Gallup tracks self-reported U.S. consumer spending on a daily basis, we'll be able to gauge right away how much U.S. shoppers hand over at the cash register and online this weekend, as well as how it compares to last year. Our consumer spending trend finds daily discretionary spending clearly down from where it was a year ago, though there have been some signs of life during recent weekends.


In the midst of extreme global economic angst last year, we did record an upturn in spending on Black Friday, though spending returned to more typical spending levels the very next day. We then recorded relatively higher spending in the week following Thanksgiving followed by a slide in late December and early January.

Americans' Christmas spending projections so far this year come in remarkably close to last year's. Lydia Saad -- our resident expert in analyzing Christmas spending forecasts -- says it's the comparison to last year that matters most for retailers. "According to historical patterns, the fact that Gallup's November 2009 spending projection is very similar to (and not lower than) those recorded in November and December 2008 should mean spending this year will not be as deflated as last year," explains Saad. "Whether that means holiday spending will be flat or actually improve compared with 2008, or only decline by a smaller percentage, is unclear. However, it is unlikely to decline by as much as occurred in 2008."

We'll be measuring all of it here at Gallup, updating our Christmas spending projections one more time in December and, of course, tracking self-reported spending daily. Our Chief Economist Dennis Jacobe analyzes consumer spending, along with economic confidence and job creation, in our Gallup Economic Weekly every Tuesday morning. To stay up-to-date on all of our spending stories, be sure to sign up for spending e-mails and RSS feeds. You can also always view and download our complete consumer spending trend via the Gallup.com homepage.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holy Smokes -- Reasons Not To Smoke Stack Up

We were already working on a story on the relationship between smoking and well-being when we realized the American Cancer Society marks its 34th annual Great American Smokeout on Thursday. On its Web site, the ACS lists more than a few good reasons to quit smoking -- all of them having to do with benefits for physical health.

Our story today adds to that list of reasons, revealing how much better nonsmokers fare than smokers in terms of overall well-being beyond just physical health. We cut the data by income to make sure income wasn't the driving factor in what are truly remarkable findings.

Our story and analysis by Brett Pelham reveals that, across all income brackets, the difference in "net thriving" -- which is the percentage who are classified as "thriving" minus the percentage who are "suffering" -- is consistent and substantial. Not only do nonsmokers do better across the board, Pelham finds that "for those making less than $60,000 per year, not smoking appears to be the equivalent of moving up one income category in evaluative well-being. What's more, nonsmokers making between $60,000 and $90,000 per year have higher well-being than smokers in the top income bracket."


The story goes on to reveal that nonsmokers have higher emotional health and are less likely to have been diagnosed with depression than smokers. Smokers also fare worse than nonsmokers on our Basic Access Sub-Index, which includes questions about having enough money for food, shelter, healthcare, suggesting that in many cases the money spent on smoking would be better spent elsewhere.

Of course, it remains possible that people who choose to smoke are dealing with other things that push them lower on these measures. But even with income off the table, it is clear that nonsmokers are better off, physically and emotionally, than those who light up.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Palin Watch: Pre- and Post-"Rogue"

Sarah Palin's book release this week will no doubt be considered a pivotal moment in her political career. Just as there was Palin pre- and post-VP pick, there will be Palin pre- and post-"Going Rogue."

From pre- to post-VP pick, Palin went from unknown to fairly well-liked almost overnight. After the election, the unfavorables eclipsed the favorables. Nearly one year and one resignation later, 50% of Americans were less than keen on Palin. As our Jeffrey M. Jones noted in our October story on Palin's favorability rating: "Palin's ratings have not recovered, and her current 40% favorable rating is the lowest for her since she became widely known after last year's Republican convention." Here's Palin's favorability trend, and you can see the complete data and precise survey dates here.



In our most recent read of 2012 presidential candidate preferences, Palin garners less support from Republicans than Mike Huckabee and ties Mitt Romney. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans (63%) say they currently would not consider voting for her for president and nearly the same percentage (62%) say she is not qualified to be president.

There is little doubt that Palin is trying to improve these numbers and her image overall with the release of her book. In fact, writing a book was tops on a to-do list Newt Gingrich penned for Palin back in August. There's already advice on how to get it right and many are eagerly anticipating the outcome.

Pundits and party loyalists will surely try to rush to a verdict on the book's effect on Palin's image. We'll track it empirically, reporting not on the voices of the few, but of the many. How the above numbers move over the next calendar year is certain to play a role in whether Palin takes a shot at the presidency for 2012. To make sure you're up to date, sign up to get our Election 2012 e-mail alerts and RSS feeds.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Your Opinions Count

One goal of this blog is to provide behind-the-scenes insights to what you see and read on Gallup.com and why we think it is important. Another goal is to provide you with a forum to give us feedback and suggestions.

At our core, we are a site that provides:

  • Data-driven insights on the news of the moment.
  • Daily and global tracking of metrics crucial to gauging political and economic stability.
  • Behavioral economic data critical to understanding how world citizens think and behave.
We want our news to be easy to consume and use, both in terms of what we report and how we report it. If there is something you would like to see on Gallup.com, or have a suggestion on how to improve our news or how you get it, please feel free to post a comment or e-mail us at gallup_news@gallup.com.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Afghanistan From All Angles

As U.S. President Barack Obama weighs his options in Afghanistan, a new Gallup poll conducted over the weekend finds about a one-third of Americans (35%) supportive of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request to send 40,000 more troops. But even more Americans (44%) would prefer that Obama begin to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan. The rest would prefer to send fewer than 40,000 more troops or for troop levels to be kept the same as they are. We'll release this data in our lead story Thursday morning, along with results by party and analysis from our Jeffrey M. Jones. (Update: Read the story).

When we asked in October about sending more troops to Afghanistan without giving a specific number, Americans had shifted to being about evenly divided, from being slightly more opposed in September.

According to reports, a key factor in Obama's thoughts on Afghanistan is the amount of confidence he places in Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Doubts about Karzai reportedly run high in the administration and world leaders have stepped up the amount of pressure on him to eradicate the type of corruption that marred the country's August election. Gallup finds Karzai's own constituents highly skeptical, with 81% of Afghans perceiving widespread corruption in the government even before the election. In the same survey, 49% of Afghans said they thought additional U.S. troops would help stabilize the security situation in the southern provinces.

In making his decision, both about troop levels and overall mission objectives, Obama is said to be leaning heavily on his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, who Americans also tend to view favorably.

You can read more Gallup news about Afghanistan and sign up for Afghanistan e-mail alerts or RSS feeds here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why You Should Care About What Other People Think

I had the opportunity today to listen to a presentation by James Fowler, co-author of Connected, at the iDiplomacy Symposium taking place at our headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Fowler and his co-author Nicholas A. Christakis examine how social networks form, evolve, and influence us. According to their research, we all operate in social clusters, which strongly influence our attitudes and behaviors. They have found that we are most strongly influenced by the people with whom we have strong, real relationships, as well as by the people who strongly influence those people. We are not as influenced by our more peripheral or loose connections.

From the lens of a person focused on reporting the attitudes and behaviors of people far beyond any of our own personal networks -- i.e., the views of all citizens in the U.S. and around the world -- I left with two main takeaways.

First, social networks have the opportunity to influence public opinion, in some ways even more so than politicians or advocates of a particular issue or action. This is because we're more likely to emulate the attitudes and behaviors of a person who is close to us than a person who is far from us. Further, it's important to understand how many people hold a certain viewpoint, because each of those people is a potential advocate or "influencer" for that viewpoint. The more people who hold a certain viewpoint, the more potential influencers you have, and the more networks to be influenced.

Second, because socially-connected people influence each other and because like-minded people tend to associate with one another, our own personal networks are rarely going to provide an accurate gauge of the bigger picture out there. The nationally representative data we collect at Gallup in many ways serve as a check on our own perceptions, which are likely affected by the attitudes and behaviors of the people closest to us and not necessarily reflective of what people think more broadly.

So, it turns out we absolutely should care, or at least be aware, about what other people think -- both those closest to us, and those far away. And we're best off if we acknowledge and understand why there's often a difference between the two.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What 700 Million Migrants Could Do

We've been flooded this week with interest in our findings on migration desires around the world -- specifically, the finding that about 700 million people around the world would like to permanently move to another country if given the chance.

The question asks specifically: "Ideally, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move permanently to another country, or would you prefer to continue living in this country?" The distinction between ideally wanting to move and actually moving is a big one.

As our Neli Esipova and Julie Ray put it: "If all adults who desire to move to another country permanently actually moved to their desired destination country today, some countries would suffer tremendous losses in human capital and others would be overwhelmed." They then reveal the five countries that would -- in the respondents' ideal world -- see the biggest population boosts, and the five that would see the biggest decreases.


While 24% of potential migrants said they would like to move to the U.S. -- far more than said so about any other country -- the U.S. did not make the top five list in terms of potential population growth. Friday, we'll release the entire list of countries in this study and their Potential Net Migration Index values -- for a complete picture of what could happen if every adult worldwide who had the desire to move to another country actually got that chance.

To be sure to get the story as soon as it is published, sign up for our world news e-mail alerts or RSS feeds.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Scoreboard Heading Into 2010 and 2012

It's the end of the first quarter, and there's a lot of time left in the game. That's the sober truth for folks on both sides of the political aisle. 2010 is halftime -- though the score does count -- and in 2012, we crown a new champion.

Relishing their two gubernatorial victories, Republicans are feeling good about their chances in the second quarter, hoping for big gains at the half. Indeed, the stats from the first quarter suggest there's reason for Republicans to feel more hopeful than in contests past. Our must-read look at the political climate for 2010 breaks down the reasons why in great detail. In brief -- Democrats need to start putting more points on the board in terms of Obama's job approval, satisfaction with the way things are going in the country, Congress' job approval, party ID, and turnout.

Republicans, in the meantime, have every reason to keep their eyes on emerging victorious in 2012. Thursday morning, we're out with our most in-depth read yet of the potential Republican field for 2012. You can read the full story -- which Mike Huckabee fans will like -- at 5aET.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Get Out And Exercise -- For All Of Our Sakes

Too often missing from the ongoing healthcare debate in the U.S. is the role of personal responsibility in keeping healthcare costs down. Insurance or no insurance, private or public, healthcare costs will be lower for all us, the healthier we are.

Sure, some conditions are genetic, accidents do happen and preventative care helps, but there are aspects of our own health -- and, in turn, our country's collective health -- that we control based on what we do with our bodies on an everyday basis.

Look no further than our story today on well-being and exercise. Put quite simply -- just 30 minutes of exercise one to two days per week dramatically cuts your chances of being obese or having depression, while dramatically increasing your chances of "thriving" in terms of well-being and having high emotional health. Just one to two days per week. The benefits increase with three to four or five to six days of exercise, and actually decrease with seven days of exercise. So, not only does a little exercise go a long way, a total of three hours per week gets you in the maximum benefit category.

By the looks of our data, only about half of Americans exercise three or more days per week. That means about half of Americans are -- by their own doing -- at higher risk for physical and emotional health conditions that ultimately cost the system money.

Take diabetes for example, to which a study by Health Affairs attributes nearly 10% of all healthcare spending and a third of the rise in healthcare costs since 1987. Our data clearly show that a lack of exercise increases your chances of being obese, and being obese increases your likelihood of being diagnosed with diabetes. On the flip side, exercising cuts your chances of being obese, being at a healthy weight cuts your chances of having diabetes, and not having diabetes cuts your chances of being a big healthcare spender.

So whatever you think about what is happening in Washington, or the potential government-sponsored remedies to the healthcare problem, none of us should ignore that we each have a role to play cutting healthcare costs. A few days of exercise per week can not only improve your own health and well-being, it is arguably the cheapest and least interventionist way to reform -- not just U.S. healthcare -- but U.S. health.

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