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Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 Year in Review

I absolutely love the year-in-review time of year. It really shows you both how long and short a calendar year can be.

I've been working on our Year in Review, which will review the collective ride we have been on since January. Our stories from January until now showcase the optimism with which Barack Obama took office and the challenges and opportunities he has faced since then. It will document how consumers' views on the economy have ebbed, flowed, and adjusted based on cautious optimism and government intervention. It will detail the most noteworthy shifts in U.S. and global attitudes and behaviors. And it will provide clues about what to expect in 2010. Look for this story on our site on Dec. 31.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The (Behavioral) Economics of Christmas

Here is the crazy thing about Christmas spending. We analyze and make predictions based on whatever indicators we can find -- what Americans tell us about their intentions, their views about the economy, retailers' plans, and the lessons of Christmas spending from seasons past. But since holiday shoppers are real people -- subject to impulse, worry, distraction, and (holiday) mood swings -- the cumulative total of their holiday receipts is ultimately subject to circumstance.

Here's what we know as of today, the Friday before the last shopping weekend for Christmas:

Retailers are said to be holding somewhat firm on prices, hoping last-minute shoppers will be willing to pay more than bargain basement prices.

Many shoppers are waiting until the last minute to shop -- either because they are hoping for bargains or because, for whatever reason, they haven't been in a rush to spend just yet.

Americans -- and especially upper-income Americans -- are giving us at Gallup more generous estimates of what they plan to spend than they did a month ago or in December of last year.

And then there's the swirl of winter weather heading up the East Coast, threatening to snow some shoppers in.

So, how much Americans spend this weekend is certainly anyone's guess. We'll have answers for you -- via our daily consumer spending measure -- next week, and every day here at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grading Obama

It's a good thing most of us don't get to grade ourselves. In giving himself "a good solid B-plus" for his first calendar year in office, President Obama gave those who opine on the internet and cable television a bookbag full of material. Of course, everyone has an opinion on what Obama's grade really is - from Karl Rove, to everyone The Hill could ask, to everyone Politico could ask, to the many of you whose comments I've seen on blogs on this topic.

These are the days that make me feel lucky to have some data -- empirical, objective data -- to rely on.

Our most recent weekly read on Obama's job approval rating, based on daily samples of approximately 1,500 Americans, puts him at 49%. It's true that matches our lowest weekly read so far. It's also true that's down from the 60%+ ratings he enjoyed from January to June. What is a 49% and a double-digit slide -- in today's issue-laden and highly-polarized environment -- worth in letter grades? That's up to you to decide.

When looking at how Obama compares to prior presidents in December of their first-term, "below average" does technically fit the bill.

We update this chart every month on our politics page to highlight how Obama stacks up not only against today's expectations, but against the benchmarks set by history.

Of course, whittling Obama's performance into one number obscures many shades of gray. That's why we also scientifically measure Obama's approval on specific issues. The last time we checked, in late November, Obama was between 40% and 50% approval on most of the specific issues he's facing.

Our favorability measure provides yet another way to grade Obama. We just updated Obama's favorability in our weekend survey and will analyze the results for a story on Thursday. We'll also put a definitive end to careless reporting comparing Obama's approval rating to Sarah Palin's favorability rating. The two measures are not the same and our story on Thursday will show that neither are their ratings. Obama leads Palin in terms of favorability by 12 percentage points.

Also, in the next few weeks, we'll reveal the most admired men and women of 2009, as well as the year's political winners and losers, as rated by Americans. Both Obama and Palin -- plus Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and others -- will get new grades on those lists.

Report card time is stressful, as millions of students around the world know. But they are most reflective of one's performance when they are both objective and comprehensive. So we'll keep the grades coming in many forms here at Gallup. And, just like in school, there's always next year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A World of Difference on Climate Change

There has arguably never been a more global issue than climate change. One can dispute exactly what will happen, when, and where, but every continent, country, and citizen has a stake in the future of planet Earth.

Of course, who carries the bulk of the blame and the burden is hardly an even playing field. The more emissions a country -- or a citizen -- produces, the more they are to blame for the consequences that result. And the less able a country -- or citizen -- is to protect themselves from those consequences, the greater the burden they are likely to shoulder.

As leaders in Copenhagen debate the role of both developed and developing countries in controlling global emissions, they should do so understanding the world of difference that exists when world citizens are asked how much they know about climate change and how much a threat they perceive it to be. Across 128 countries, awareness of climate change is highest in Europe and the Americas, as is the perception of the threat. But both awareness and concern fall off considerably in Asia, the Middle East/North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. You can peruse the results by country in this lovely, interactive map.

Next week, we'll release results of new data that find world citizens generally support the notion that developed countries like the United States, Germany, and Japan should reduce emissions at the same time as fast-growing economies like China, India, and Brazil.

To get that story as soon as it is published, sign up for our climate change e-mail alerts and RSS feeds. You can also review all of our recent stories on climate change at the same link.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top 5 Basics

Every time I talk to someone about, I tell them something about our site they tell me they "had no idea!" about. It's usually something I think everyone who visits our site would definitely know. And since this blog is to help you get to know us and what we do, I've decided to go ahead a list out the Top 5 things about our site that I think all of our readers should know.

1) We poll 1,000 Americans every night. Real interviewers, on the phone, calling real Americans around the country. After one week of surveying, we have 7,000 interviews. After a month, we have 30,000. After a year, we have 350,000. These large samples allow us to look at extensive demographic breaks and unique cross-tabulations of our daily measures. They also allow us to report state-level results twice per year and congressional district-level results at the end of the year.

2) We report the results of our Gallup Daily tracking every day at 1pET on the ticker-like banner at the top of our homepage. We generally report results based on three-day rolling averages and we report the change from the previous reporting period. You can click on any measure to get the long-term trend for that item and even export the data into an Excel spreadsheet for your own graphing and modeling pleasure. We write stories about these measures whenever we see something meaningful or newsworthy. These results are not based on "a Gallup Poll," but rather an analysis of continuous, daily monitoring.

3) We also conduct standalone surveys, usually on weekends. These are sometimes conducted in partnership with USA Today, and sometimes conducted on our own. These surveys usually include topical questions and long-standing Gallup trends not included in our daily tracking. We report most of these findings in stories on and also archive the trend results in our Topics A-Z.

4) We survey about much more than politics. We, in fact, apply Gallup's gold-standard methodology to four key areas -- politics, business, well-being and world. Our daily economic tracking includes the most up-to-date data available on Americans' attitudes about the economy, their companies' hiring situations, and their spending habits. Our daily well-being tracking includes the most precise data available on Americans' health conditions and behaviors. Our global tracking monitors the political, economic, and social attitudes and behaviors of citizens in more than 150 countries around the world. It's the same Gallup, the same standards, and the same Web site.

5) We're much more than "polls" and "public opinion." While some of our surveys do gauge people's opinions, many of our questions result in hard evidence about what people are doing -- at their jobs, in their communities, with their money, and with their bodies. The bulk of our data are, in fact, behavioral economic data, which, in many cases, reveal the precursors for the effects we see in classical economic data.

Explore our site and you'll see the distinctions I mention above. We're also in the process of updating our Frequently Asked Questions, so if you've got one -- about our surveys or site -- please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail us.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Moving the Job Creation Needle

Even with the U.S. unemployment rating falling to 10% and fewer than expected jobs cut in November, job creation remains a critical piece of getting the nation's economy back on its feet. As long as Americans first-hand are seeing more jobs being cut than being created, they will be hesitant to spend as they would if they were sure their job would always be there.

At the White House jobs summit Thursday, President Obama rightly broke the jobs puzzle into two big pieces: increasing job creation, while stemming job losses. He said the Recovery Act passed by his administration earlier this year helped to stop the economy's free fall and that it is now the private sector's role to capitalize on burgeoning economic growth.

We track job creation and job losses with our job market measure -- based on what American workers see around them, rather than what the government reports. We ask workers to tell us if their own company is hiring new employees, letting employees go, or not changing the size of its workforce. We can thus gauge what is happening at the ground level in businesses across the country long before people actually file for unemployment benefits or report a reduction in payrolls.

In November, 25% of U.S. workers reported to us that their companies were hiring, while 23% said their companies were letting go. That's better than at the beginning of the year, but it's nowhere near last year. When you break it down by region, only the South finds job creation measurably exceeding job losses.

At the jobs summit, President Obama talked about the anxiety at the community level saying he sees "communities devastated by lost jobs and devastated by the fear that those jobs are never coming back."

To replace that fear with hope, it's going to take more than a not-as-bad-as-last-month unemployment rate, but additionally a sense at the ground level that more jobs are being created than being lost. You can track our job market measure daily via the U.S. Job Market chart or by scrolling through the daily measures at the top of our home page.

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