WNEC poll finds public more optimistic about economy

Date: 11/16/2009

SPRINGFIELD While most Massachusetts residents say the national economy is still in bad shape, they are becoming increasingly optimistic that the economy will improve in the coming year, according to the latest survey from the Western New England College (WNEC) Polling Institute.

The telephone survey of 522 adults, conducted Oct. 18 through 22, found that 88 percent rated the national economy as "very bad" or "fairly bad." But nearly half of the statewide sample 45 percent said they expect the economy to get better over the next 12 months. Only one-third of adults made the same prediction last February, the last time the Polling Institute surveyed Massachusetts residents about the economy.

In addition, 30 percent also said they expect their personal financial position to improve over the next 12 months, compared to 22 percent in February. The poll has a margin of error of +/- four percent.

But the increase in economic confidence may not translate into robust spending during the upcoming holiday shopping season. Half of those surveyed said they would spend the same amount on gifts this year as last year, and 47 percent said they would spend less.

"Massachusetts residents are hopeful about the economy, but they are also very cautious," Tim Vercellotti, associate professor of political science and co-director of the WNEC Polling Institute, said. "They're not necessarily in the mood to start spending again."

In the latest survey, adults with a high school education or less were most likely to hold a negative view of the economy, with 60 percent rating it "very bad." Senior citizens were most likely to offer a positive assessment, with 18 percent of those 65 and older saying the economy is "fairly good."

Optimism that the economy will bounce back was greatest among those with a college degree or annual household incomes of $100,000 or higher. More than half of adults in each category said they expect the economy to improve in the next 12 months.

But optimism has its limits. Only two percent of those completing the survey said they plan to spend more on gifts this holiday season compared to last year; those saying they would spend the same or less accounting for 97 percent of the sample. Even among those numbers, however, there were signs of improvement. While 47 percent said they would spend less this year, 60 percent gave that answer a year ago.

"Some people who cut back last year may be deciding to hold their spending steady this year, instead of cutting back further," Vercellotti said.