A foreclosure sign hangs on a fence in front of a foreclosed home in Richmond, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Whether or not that Great Depression actually materializes in the economy, it’s pretty obvious that a (lower-case) great depression already exists when it comes to the American psyche, and it’s casting a pall over the 2012 race for president.

Pessimism about the economy permeates almost every poll that has been released this week, and it is starting to be one of the first defining characteristics of next year’s race.

This isn’t an entirely new development. In fact, the American public started taking a turn for the pessimistic a couple months ago, when gas prices started to rise.

But it’s just gotten worse and worse. And these new numbers are among the most striking we have seen to date.

The 48 percent of people who said a new Great Depression appears imminent did so even after it was explained to them just how bad the last one was. The question prefaced that, in 1929 and the 1930s, “roughly one out of four workers were unemployed, banks failed across the country, and millions of ordinary Americans were temporarily homeless or unable to feed their families.”

Even when banks were failing and the unemployment rate was rising quickly in 2008 and 2009, the same poll showed Americans didn’t think another Great Depression was so imminent. Just 41 percent said so in 2009 and 38 percent in 2008.

Washington Post-ABC News polling has shown a similar trend for the pessimistic. Though people rate the economy slightly better than they did over the last three years, even those who say it has improved say increasingly that the recovery has been weak.

But what does it mean?

First, it means that the White House’s efforts to beat back a bad economic report over the weekend was met by an extremely skeptical American public. Americans aren’t in the mood for politicians to tell them how much progress has been made, and President Obama will have to adjust accordingly if indicators don’t improve.

Second, it suggests that the brinksmanship that bubbles beneath the surface on the upcoming debt limit negotiations could be getting to people.

“Americans keep hearing about the debt ceiling and the disaster that will happen if the debt ceiling is raised or the disaster that will happen if the debt ceiling isn’t raised,” GOP pollster Chris Wilson said.

On the flip side, though, there’s also reason to believe that such pessimism could benefit Obama.

Put it this way: If you’re expecting a lump of coal in your stocking, and you wind up getting a toothbrush, that’s a good thing.

Americans are much more pessimistic about the economy than many experts, and if the experts are right and the economy can take a significant turn for the better, that initial pessimism and those lowered expectations could be a good thing for Obama.

Unless the American public just refuses to be satisfied, of course. Which is entirely possible.

“The one saving grace the president has is that voters are not the best at predicting the future, but this is not a positive sign for him,” said another GOP pollster, Glen Bolger.

Reuters poll says Palin leads

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney trails former Alaska governor Sarah Palin by two points in a potential Republican presidential primary. By contrast, a Quinnipiac poll that came out Wednesday had Romney up 10 points over Palin.

Along the same lines, the Reuters poll has Obama beating any potential Republican challenger by double digits. Qunnipiac found that Romney was only six points behind.

National polls this early in the race don’t have too much weight. But both surveys reconfirm that for now, Romney is a frontrunner and the strongest Republican contender against Obama — at least for now. The Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this week actually found the two in a dead heat.

DCCC launches more calls hitting GOP on Medicare: Democrats are continuing their Medicare offensive, launching automated phone calls in 13 districts hitting Republicans for “voting to end Medicare.”

“You’ve paid into Medicare for more than 25 years and earned Medicare benefits,” said one Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee call targeting Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.). “But under the Runyan plan, Medicare will end and you’ll have to save about $182,000 more to pay for your health care from private insurance companies. But millionaires and corporations get even bigger tax breaks.”

The other targets of the calls are Reps. Ben Quayle (Ariz.), Daniel Webster (Fla.), Steve King (Iowa), Bobby Schilling (Ill.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), Joe Heck (Nev.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.), Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Lou Barletta (Pa.), Kristi Noem (S.D.) and Scott Rigell (Va.).

It’s not clear how much the committee is spending on the calls, though previous buys in this media campaign have been small.

No lie: Wilson backs Pawlenty: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who is perhaps best known for yelling “you lie” at Obama during on of the president’s speeches, has endorsed former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty for president.

“As South Carolinians get to know Governor Pawlenty, as I have, they will see someone with a remarkable record of conservative accomplishments in a politically tough state for Republicans, and someone who has the kind of bold vision for America’s future that we need to defeat Barack Obama,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s endorsement carries weight in a key primary state and is a good sign for Pawlenty. The congressman is as conservative as they come and has plenty of ties to the South Carolina GOP establishment.

Wilson didn’t endorse until after the South Carolina primary in 2008, when his endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was seen as evidence of the establishment’s rallying effect.


Former senator Fred Thompson (R) says Pawlenty’s speech Tuesday opens him up to demagoguery.

Former White House spokesman Bill Burton speaks his mind on the GOP presidential field, and he’s pulling no punches.

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) has endorsed former state Rep. Adam Hasner (R) in the Florida Senate race, but will Hasner return the favor if Blackwell runs against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)? Both men face primaries.

Herman Cain acknowledges that his past support for the bank bailout could be a problem.

Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer “appears to be on the brink” of jumping into a crowded GOP primary to face Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Don’t expect former Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) to attempt a return to Congress next year.


Analysis: Texas congressional redistricting case to test Voting Rights Act’s reach” — Richard Dunham, Houston Chronicle

Weiner’s seat could be scrambled in redistricting” — Nate Silver, New York Times

The Influence Industry: Buchanan dogged by allegations in FEC contributions case” — Dan Eggen, The Washington Post

Jon Huntsman’s no-names strategy” — Jonathan Martin, Politico

In Reckless Fashion, Rapid Online Pursuits of Political Admirers” — Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro, New York Times

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

YOUR TAKE: Do you think a new Great Depression is coming?

Using the hashtag #NextGreatDepression, we asked readers if they thought another Great Depression was imminent. These are some of the responses that we got:

@washingtonpost #nextgreatdepression only if republicans get back in charge. We were doing better w/ dems in control of prez AND congress.less than a minute ago via Mobile Web Favorite Retweet ReplyDubMasterC

#NextGreatDepression would require sustained economic contraction & social disorder. Safety net curbs chance for latter now. It’s not 1932.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet ReplyRobertJT

Hope the #NextGreatDepression is no where near because things finally seem to be looking up for meless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet ReplyShannon Kaylee

@washingtonpost America’s greatness has always been confidence.If that’s lost #NextGreatDepression will happen. Fix Edu http://bit.ly/aklzxmless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyJeff Logsdail

@washingtonpost #nextgreatdepression relies on economic policy, not opinion polls. GOP feeds off the fear right now...they love it!less than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet ReplyMatthew McGrail

#NextGreatDepression perhaps something similar, those who lived through the depression would perhaps agree,nothing comparesless than a minute ago via Mobile Web Favorite Retweet Replybiteablekat

Exchange complacency & arrogance for innovation and collaboration so #nextgreatdepression can be averted. The tea party won’t get us thereless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyNicolaine Lazarre