The economy is showing some of its first real signs of steady recovery after some very tough years. There have been six straight months of at least 200,000 jobs created, and the Gross Domestic Product in the second quarter grew at a stronger-than-expected 4 percent. There are still plenty of causes for concern, and the progress is tenuous, but the amount of good news is pretty much unprecedented since the recession.
All of which has led President Obama to bump up his rhetoric on the economy. He has even used the word "booming."
The American people, though, see no boom. Recent polling does show their perceptions of the economy are indeed improving, but there's little evidence of a surge in positive views. And caution and pessimism are still clearly the watchwords.
Let's break it down into three parts: Perceptions of progress (the past), the current view (the present) and the outlook (the future).
1) The perception of progress
First, look at the below chart from the Pew Research Center. It shows what kind of news people say they are hearing about the economy.
The percentage of people who say they are hearing "mostly bad news" (24 percent) is tied with its lowest point since the recession. But the percentage who say they are hearing "mostly good news" remains at just 10 percent -- little changed from where it's been the last two years. And, we would emphasize, that's still only one in 10 Americans who say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy. The vast majority still see a mix of good and bad.
Any progress made in the realm of public perception has been mostly among independents. Six months ago, 46 percent of independents said they were hearing mostly bad news; today it's just 31 percent. That's good for Democrats who need these independent voters in the 2014 election.
We would note, though, that only 19 percent are seeing mostly good news. Again, the bad news appears to penetrate more than the good.
There's also the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which has a plethora of new data on this question.
The poll shows slightly more Americans think the economy is improving (50 percent) than say it's not improving (47 percent). It also shows that 49 percent of Americans think we're still in a recession. We're not -- people don't really know what a "recession" is -- but this number has declined by nine points since June 2013.
And then there's the jobs picture. Gallup has shown a steady improvement of people's perceptions of the hiring that is taking place at their employer. And the jump this year is one of the bigger ones since the recession -- albeit not clearly the biggest.
2) The current view
All of the data above suggest Americans are consuming good news about the economy and, on the whole, probably think things are getting a little bit better.
As for whether they actually see things as better today than six months ago, that's a different question. It's one thing to perceive progress; it's another to actually feel things are better now than a few months ago. And when it comes to Americans' in-the-moment perceptions of how the economy is doing, they have also changed slightly for the better.
The NBC/WSJ poll shows 35 percent of Americans are at least "somewhat satisfied" with the state of the economy, while 64 percent are at least "somewhat unsatisfied." Those numbers are better than in January, with about 6 percent to 7 percent of Americans moving from the "somewhat dissatisfied" to the "somewhat satisfied" camp.
A CNN/Opininion Research poll from last week, meanwhile, shows the percentage of Americans viewing the economy as "good" has steadily risen, from 32 percent in December to 36 percent in February to 38 percent in May to 41 percent today.
That trend, though -- as with many mentioned above -- began before the good news of the last six months and hasn't really accelerated. And people still think the economy, by and large, isn't good.
3) The outlook
Here's where things don't look like they've gotten much better. Below is data from Gallup's economic confidence index, in which the outlook is actually getting slightly worse -- and is lower today than at any point this year.
The NBC/WSJ poll also found that large majorities of Americans say that America is a country in decline (60 percent) and that they're not confident their children's generation will have it better than they did (76 percent). These are not economic measures, per se, but as the Journal's Patrick O'Connor notes, the economy is undoubtedly a major factor in both questions (and, we would argue, particularly the latter).
The entire picture is one of a modest improvement in perceptions of the economy. But those perceptions were already getting better before the past six months, and there's little to suggest that the good news that we have seen has created any sizable surge in positive views of the economic picture. Better? Yes. Much better? No.
Which is why Obama is making the hard sell. His supporters are unhappy that the positive signs haven't resulted in more credit and momentum in the 2014 election, so Obama is making the case that things are not only getting better -- they're getting better more quickly than most people realize. Hence, "booming."
As the polling above shows, though, the American people still aren't quite ready to buy into that idea. And the view that the economy is dim but getting a little less dim is probably baked-in when it comes to the 2014 election.