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Friday, February 26, 2010

A Better Read on Economic Confidence

With the Dow, banks, economic analysts so quick to react to Tuesday's Conference Board report declaring a sharp decline in consumer confidence from January to February, it's remarkable so few stop to question it.

We at Gallup measure consumer confidence too with our Economic Confidence Index. Just like The Conference Board's measure, it is based on surveys gauging Americans' views of economic conditions now and their economic outlook for the future.

But there's a big and important difference between us and The Conference Board. Their surveys are mail-in, with a cut off for preliminary results in the middle of the month. Ours are conducted every single day of the month without pause. Thus, Conference Board reports, like the one that came out Tuesday, really only compare the first part of February to the first part of January, while our data gives the complete, uninterrupted picture.

This more complete picture, as our Lydia Saad reports, finds consumer confidence steady, rather than plunging, in recent weeks.

As Saad explains, "The souring of consumer attitudes that The Conference Board detected with its early February reading most likely set in around mid-January. The February finding looks particularly dramatic in comparison with the slightly elevated level of consumer confidence that The Conference Board found in early January. Gallup data, however, show that current confidence levels are generally no more negative than they have been for much of the last six months."

Having worked in many newsrooms, I certainly understand the standard operating procedure that results in journalists reporting something like consumer confidence without stopping to question the data or to understand what is really behind it. But, if data is going to move markets, it should be the best and most accurate data available. Gallup's economic measures are updated daily at 1 p.m. ET on our homepage and weekly on our business page.

To make sure you're always up-to-date on Gallup's economic findings, sign up for our Economy e-mail alerts and RSS feeds.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What it Means to Be Underemployed

Gallup's finding that 19.9% of Americans were underemployed in January is still reverberating through newsrooms, office buildings, and living rooms. The idea that nearly one in five Americans is unable to find as much work as they would like is certainly daunting, in a time where the prospect of a new era of joblessness worries U.S. leaders, economists, sociologists, and psychologists.

But our Gallup Daily tracking on employment reveals much more than how many Americans are underemployed. We tell you precisely who these Americans are and are just beginning to reveal that we can tell you precisely what it means -- for both individuals and society.

Among the lesser reported findings in our stories released Tuesday, fewer than 3 in 10 of America's underemployed feel good about the money they have to spend or feel able to make a major purchase if needed. Just over half say they "have money to buy the things they need."

The extent to which the underemployed feel financially strapped, compared to their employed counterparts, adds up for the U.S. economy. In January, the underemployed, on average, reported spending $48 per day compared to the $75 per day reported by those employed to their desired capacity. That's 36% less money changing hands within the U.S. economy due to underemployment.

But two underemployed people -- despite sharing the same employment status -- will likely differ in their behavioral impact on the economy based on whether or not they are hopeful about finding a job soon. We put this question to our underemployed respondents and found that 61% were not hopeful about finding a job within the next four weeks. Those who are not hopeful are more likely to worry about the amount of money they are spending and feel even less able to make a major purchase if needed.

And we know the impact of underemployment and hopelessness extends far beyond finances. Our Jenny Marlar found that being underemployed cuts your likelihood of "thriving" in overall wellbeing from 60% to 40%, and among the underemployed, a lack of hope further reduces it from 47% to 36%. Since this life evaluation measure gauges all that an individual needs and desires for the "best possible life," there is much more to be said about how underemployment affects a person's overall state of mind and wellbeing.

That's what we'll bring to you on With our employment tracking joining the roster of measures we track and report daily, we will not only provide the most up-to-date read on Americans' employment status available anywhere, we will also monitor and report how employment status relates to the many other measures we track -- spanning one's physical, emotional, financial wellbeing and more.

To make sure you are always up-to-date on Gallup news on underemployment, sign up for our underemployment e-mail alerts or RSS feed. If there's something you'd like to know about America's underemployed, feel free to e-mail us at or post a comment here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Where Obama Begins His Week

A quick skim of the political news out there makes it pretty clear political commentators see a lot riding on this week for the Obama administration.


"A last-ditch effort. . ."

"The Last, Best Shot"

A week that "will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years."


Obama begins his week with a 49% job approval rating both in our daily average and in our weekly average through Sunday. As our Jeff Jones reports, that's basically where his approval rating has been since mid-November.

With the focus this week on the president's own proposal for healthcare reform and a live, televised healthcare summit on Thursday, the assumption out there is that what happens with healthcare this week will change everything going forward.

We'll certainly find out.

It's true that Obama's numbers began their downhill journey toward where they are now last summer when healthcare reform became front-page news. To hope for a turnaround on that very same issue is asking for a lot.

It's also true that Americans continue to see unemployment and the economy, not healthcare, as the most important problem facing the country. These findings suggest Americans might ultimately be more interested in the outcome of the jobs bill facing its first test in the Senate today than in what happens with healthcare.

Of course, there's more at stake than the president's job approval rating. The administration and countless other political strategists are also turning more attention to the midterm congressional elections. We're monitoring that as well -- with our 2010 Election Key Indicators, which we're tracking monthly until Election Day. Our next update on these measures will come in March. By then, we'll know how big this week turned out to be.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Much More Than "A Gallup Poll"

I'm thrilled when I see people out there discussing, debating, and quoting our Gallup findings. But I sometimes wince when I see someone refer to "a Gallup poll."

How can it be?

Despite Gallup's proud history, much of what Gallup reports today are the results of much more than "a Gallup poll." They are, instead, the result of daily, continuous tracking.

What's the difference? Stay with me, and trust me, this matters even if you aren't a pollster or a stats geek.

While "a Gallup poll" is a one-time survey, usually based on 1,000 interviews conducted over a three-day period, Gallup Daily tracking data are the result of 1,000 interviews conducted every single night. While there are limits to what we can extrapolate from a one-time, 1,000 person Gallup poll, our daily tracking samples -- which total 30,000 surveys per month and more than 350,000 surveys per year -- provide endless possibilities.

Take, for example, our recent "State of the States" series. Every measure you see there -- from President Obama's job approval rating to our Job Creation Index to our Well-Being Index -- is the result of continuous, daily monitoring. We can look at any of those measures over the course of a day, a week, a month, a year or since 2008. We can also look at them by region, state, city, and congressional district. This level of detail is simply not possible with a one-time Gallup poll.

Our recent report on the politics of Asian Americans is another example. A one-time Gallup poll does not usually allow us to report meaningful findings by racial groups, much less by racial groups that make up a relatively small slice of the U.S. population. The same goes for religious groups. Only through our large daily tracking samples can we examine the ideology of Mormons or Jewish support for Obama.

Check out our reports on party identification, happiness, and worry and stress by age. Because our aggregated daily tracking samples are so huge, we can look at these metrics at every single age to see how things vary across the age continuum.

Our daily tracking data are what allow us to track health insurance coverage in the U.S. over time by demographic group, by plan type, and more. Monday morning, we'll release a new story on health insurance coverage by age.

Our economic data on economic confidence, job creation, and consumer spending can also be analyzed from every angle. Whether it's job creation by region or consumer spending by weekday, weekend, and payday weeks, we're able to get at what's really happening like never before. Next week, we add daily employment tracking to the mix, making it possible to examine the U.S. workforce -- both in terms of employment status, state of mind, and behavioral impact -- to a level of unprecedented detail.

So, how can you tell the difference between a Gallup poll and Gallup findings made possible by Gallup Daily tracking? Here's a quick checklist.

1) If we're reporting on a measure you see on the ticker across the top of, it's Gallup Daily tracking.

2) If we're reporting on a week, a month, a year, a city, a state, or a relatively small group in the U.S. population, there's a 99% chance it's Gallup Daily tracking.

3) You can always check the Survey Methods at the bottom on any story. If it's Gallup Daily tracking, it'll say so.

So, while we're extremely proud of the Gallup Poll name and legacy, our Gallup Daily tracking in the U.S. and global tracking around the world have allowed us to shift much of our energy from one-time polls that are snapshots in time to long-term, continuous monitoring of what we think are the most important indicators in the world.

Because we have so much data that can be examined in so many different ways, we're always open to ideas on what to report on and analyze further. If you have idea for a study of Gallup Daily tracking data, please don't hesitate to e-mail us at or post a comment here.

(NEW: Check out all of the questions included in Gallup Daily tracking.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Sets the Best U.S. Cities Apart

What does that other city have that mine doesn't? We hope leaders and citizens countrywide are asking themselves that question after our release of the nation's best and worst cities in terms of well-being.

Among metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people, San Jose, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Raleigh, N.C. have the highest overall well-being. Among all cities, Boulder, Colo., Holland/Grand Haven, Mich., and Honolulu, Hawaii top the list.

So what boosts a city's well-being?

Have a look at the large cities that fare best on the individual metrics that make up the overall Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. In Washington, D.C., people rate their lives the best. Minneapolis/St. Paul -- which comes in fourth on the big cities list -- enjoys the best basic access and the greatest emotional health. In San Jose, Calif., people are the healthiest in terms of healthy behaviors and physical health outcomes. Workers in Raleigh, N.C. enjoy the best work environments.

Gallup and Healthways in 2008 partnered to begin tracking well-being daily because of the shared belief that only by measuring and truly understanding the problems they face can leaders develop and target solutions accordingly. As our Dan Witters reports, a city's well-being "has potential ramifications for economic development, law and order, and a sense of shared pride and purpose. The city well-being comparisons can also help to reveal best practices to celebrate for some and a call to arms for others."

Cities that did not fare well can use these data to better understand where they are under-performing and target their policies and budgets accordingly.

You can download individual city, state, and congressional district well-being reports on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index site. In addition, our "State of the States" feature has sortable data by state across our key well-being, politics, and business measures.

Many of the best performing cities and states are reacting to the news. Any thoughts on why your city or state did as well or poorly as it did?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's Driving Life Evaluation Higher?

Americans are more positive about their lives than they have been at any time in the past two years, according to our Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data.

The metric in question -- the Life Evaluation Index -- incorporates how Americans rate their lives today and what they expect their lives to be like in five years. Here's the data since we began tracking this two years ago:

So, the question we're all asking ourselves is: what is driving this higher? Our well-being data from 2009 found five of the six other sub-indexes in the Well-Being Index down from 2008. Only life evaluation improved. And it improved enough to offset the declines in the five other areas combined. And now we have a new high in January 2010.

Here are the exact questions we ask, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now?

Do you have an explanation for this increase in life evaluation, despite all of the challenges facing the U.S. today? How would you answer this question?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

U.S. Leadership Gets Global Image Boost

In Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Gallup and the Meridian International Center revealed the complete 2009 findings of their "The U.S.-Global Leadership Project," examining views of U.S. leadership around the world.

In 102 countries surveyed by Gallup in 2009, a median of 51% of respondents said they approved of U.S. leadership. That's up from 34% in 2008 and similarly poor ratings prior to that.

Our story on these data examines this shift in detail, including specific data by region and from G20 countries. Our Cynthia English reports: "Significant improvements in sentiment toward U.S. leadership are evident in all four major global regions, with the largest year-over-year increase in approval measured in Europe." Additionally, our World Citizens' Views on U.S. Leadership feature includes all of the country-level data.

Panelists at Tuesday's event -- former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, former U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, The Atlantic Senior Editor Clive Crook, and former U.S. Ambassador and Meridian International Center CEO Stuart Holliday -- examined the data from several angles and took questions from the audience.

The panel considered, among other issues, the "Obama effect" in these numbers and whether the gains are sustainable in a climate where expectations for Obama were so high while the foreign policy challenges he faces are so difficult. It is worth noting here that a slim majority of Americans currently approve of the way Obama is handling foreign affairs.

The panel also discussed the implications of how the U.S. balances its defense, diplomacy, and development efforts, and whether a re-examination or re-balancing of those efforts might ultimately results in gains for the U.S. brand image.

Questions from the audience also recognized the complexity inherent in ratings of U.S. leadership versus perceptions of the American people, especially in light of the Gallup finding that more than 165 million people worldwide -- far more than in any other country -- say they would move permanently to the U.S. if they could.

Gallup and the Meridian International Center will continue to track global views of U.S. leadership in the coming months and years and report and analyze noteworthy shifts. To make sure you are always up to date, sign up for Gallup world or perceptions of foreign countries e-mail alerts or RSS fees.

Read the complete findings from the U.S.-Global Leadership Project.

Friday, February 5, 2010

There's More to the U.S. Employment Story

Update: Due to severe weather in Washington, D.C., Gallup has postponed the release of its employment data to Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Even with 5.7% GDP growth, the U.S. unemployment rate remains the key metric on which real Americans -- not economists -- will judge the health and recovery of the U.S. economy.

The Labor Department Friday told us that number fell to 9.7% in January, from 10% in December. But even the government knows there's more to the U.S. employment story than that. Its broader U-6 measure, which adds "marginally attached workers," was 16.5% in January, down from 17.3% in December.

Gallup, too, knows there is much more to say about the U.S. employment situation. We, too, ask Americans about their employment status; whether they are employed full-time, part-time, whether they want more work, do not want to work at all, and so on.

On the homepage beginning Tuesday Feb. 23, we will report the percentage of Americans, based on our surveys of 1,000 Americans per night, who we classify as "Employed" and "Underemployed." Our "underemployment rate," similar to the government's U-6 measure, includes respondents who are unemployed and those who are employed part time, but want to work full time.

And we can place an even stronger magnifying glass on America's employed and underemployed. Because we ask so many other political, economic, and wellbeing questions daily, we can also report how the employed differ from the underemployed in terms of their personal finance habits, daily spending, personal health, wellbeing, optimism and more.

And we plan to.

In conjunction with the official -- open to the public -- release of our employment data Tuesday, Feb. 23, at our Washington, D.C. headquarters, we will release several stories examining the employed and underemployed, taking a close look at who these Americans are and what they are facing. We'll be able to quantify how much unemployment and underemployment costs the U.S., both in terms of money and wellbeing. We'll also tell you about how hopeful -- or pessimistic -- the underemployed are about finding the work they seek. We'll also tell you how happy the employed are with the work they have. We'll monitor all of our employment metrics over time and report newsworthy shifts on

What's more, we'll continue to look at what working Americans tell us about the hiring situation where they work; i.e. whether their own employer is hiring new workers or letting workers go. Here's a look at that measure in January.

Together, our data are the most complete picture of the U.S. employment situation available anywhere. To make sure you are always up to date, sign up for our unemployment e-mail alerts or RSS feeds.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Welcome, Mr. Brown, to an Unpopular Club

Scott Brown asked and at 5 p.m. is set to receive his official welcome into what has to be the most unpopular club in Washington.

Brown, a Republican, is expected to be sworn today as the junior senator from Massachusetts -- having yesterday stepped up the timetable to claim his prize for his come-from-behind upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in the state's Jan. 19 special election. Winning 52% of the vote in the third most Democratic state in the union was impressive. It's going to be a lot harder from here on out.

In December, 25% of Americans said they approved of the way Congress was handling its job. Obama may have his troubles, but his ratings are still roughly double that.

We have a survey coming out of the field today, conducted Feb. 1-3, which will show us if Congress won or lost any points in the last month. In particular, it will update us on the mood since Brown won in a vote that 72% of Americans said reflected frustrations shared by many Americans and subsequently put the brakes on the healthcare reform legislation.

With Brown as the game-changing 41st Republican in the U.S. Senate, Republicans gain some bargaining power while Democrats lose some. Only 15% of Republicans approved of Congress before; we'll see if they start to see more things they like.

In our new survey, we'll also get an updated read on our generic ballot for Congress in 2010, which in December found a 48% to 45% edge for Democrats over Republicans. We'll have the results of both of these measures for you in the coming days on

Next week, we'll also add an Election 2010 Key Indicators feature to our politics page, where we'll keep the latest results of these and several other important metrics for Congress easily accessible from now until the November midterm elections.

The climb back into Americans' good graces is a long one for Brown and the other 99 senators in Washington, who collectively face a sea of challenges.

To make sure you're always up to date, sign up for Congress and Election 2010 e-mail alerts and RSS feeds.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"State of the States" Revealed This Month

We're thrilled today to begin our "State of the States" series, based on Gallup Daily tracking data collected throughout 2009.

Here's how it works. We survey every day of the year, asking 1,000 Americans our very best questions on politics, business, and wellbeing. At the end of the year, when we have more than 350,000 interviews, we aggregate the results for an in-depth look at the results at the state level. Since we now have two years' worth of data, we can also look at the change across states from 2008 to 2009.

We're kicking off the series with Jeffrey M. Jones' analysis of political party affiliation by state. Jones reveals which states are red and blue this time around and classifies 12 states as "competitive." He also finds "a reduction of the Democratic advantage in 39 states and the District of Columbia" from 2008 to 2009.

In addition to Jones' must-read story, we have the simple data for you in our new "State of the States" interactive, which we'll be populating throughout the month of February as we release new stories. The interactive allows you to map, sort, and export complete state data across measures.

Later this week, we'll fill out the politics tab with our reports on ideology and Obama job approval by state.

The week of Feb. 8, we'll focus on our business measures, reporting economic confidence, job creation, and satisfaction with standard of living by state.

The week of Feb. 15, we'll cap things off with our reports on well-being by state, revealing which states are doing best in terms of physical health, basic access to services, work environments, and more.

When it's all said and done, leaders and citizens alike will have a complete read on the dynamics of their state -- pinpointing areas of both strength and weakness, as well as momentum gained or lost from 2008 to 2009.

To make sure to get every "State of the States" story as soon as it is published, sign up for "All Gallup Headlines" via e-mail alerts or RSS feeds. In the meantime, bookmark our interactive for an always up-to-date look at the state of your state.

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