Marylanders are slightly more bullish on the economy than they were last fall, according to a poll just released by the University of Maryland Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences.
The survey, the fourth conducted by the university in 12 months, reflects the views of 512 persons across the state who were questioned between Jan. 20 and Apr. 20 of this year. It is subject to a 5 percentage point margin of error.
In response to a question on where the economy is headed over the next year, bulls outnumbered bears by 36 to 32 percent. Last fall 44 percent thought the economy would get worse, and only 29 percent felt it would get better. But the number of fence-sitters rose; 27 percent expressed the opinion things would be just about the same this time next year, compared with just 20 percent last autumn. By contrast, a year ago respondents were almost equally divided among "better, same and worse."
Marylanders tend to be somewhat more optimistic than Americans as a whole, said John Robinson, director of the survey. He attributed this buoyancy to their relative affluence. According to the Commerce Department, Marylanders ranked seventh in the nation in per capita income last year. The national average was $10,517; in Maryland, it was $11,534.
In a Harris survey last December, Americans said by a margin of 53 to 38 they did not believe the economy would expand at a healthy rate in 1982. An April poll by the Conference Board found 47 percent of U.S. households calling current economic conditions "bad," up from 31 percent in March 1981. Despite declining consumer confidence, the poll nevertheless found expectations higher than during either the 1974 or 1980 recessions.
Among Marylanders, there was little change this spring over last fall in how they viewed their personal financial futures, but a small improvement over the results of a year ago. In the latest survey, 39 percent said they expected to be better off a year from now, 14 percent worse off, and 41 percent about the same. That contrasts with 40 percent "better," 16 percent "worse" and 37 percent the "same" last fall. (The figures do not add up to 100 percent because "don't knows" are not included.)
The optimism that comes with affluence is evident in the much greater number of Marylanders who have confidence in their own financial futures than do not. This fact, said Robinson, suggests that "consumers may not have fully reconciled the implications of the sluggish state of the economy for their own personal financial situations."
Still, the affluent exhibit a note of caution when it comes to future purchases. When asked whether this was the time to buy, more Marylanders said no than yes. A total of 39 percent plan to delay purchases, compared with 29 percent who plan to buy. An equal number, 29 percent, seemed confused as to whether or not this was a good time.
Last fall 42 percent said they would wait, 31 percent said they would buy, and 25 percent indicated conditions were somewhere in between "buy" and "wait." A year ago the "buys" and "waits" were evenly matched at 35 percent each.