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America's mood has improved on coronavirus, jobs, and more as President Biden era begins

Ben Werschkul
·Senior Producer and Writer
·4 min read

Yahoo Finance, in conjunction with The Harris Poll, has been asking Americans about their outlook on the future since last summer.

Each time, we asked the following about 10 different issues: “How much better or worse do you think each of the following will be three months from now?”

In August, the results found Americans expecting things to get worse on a range of fronts. Then in October, Americans were even gloomier about about their prospects ahead of Election Day.

The latest round, which surveyed Americans on the eve of President Biden’s inauguration, found that optimism has improved on every metric but still has a long ways to go.

On COVID-19, the percentage of Americans who see things getting either “much” or “somewhat” better over the next three months jumped 10 percentage points from October to 38%. The optimism as vaccines begin to roll out was tempered as more respondents – 42%, down from 47% in the last survey – still expect the pandemic to get worse over the next three months. But it’s the most optimistic result on the issue yet.

Optimism about the health care system jumped eight percentage points, from 20% to 28%, and optimism about the education system nearly doubled to 27%. The trend was the same across the seven other issues measured: public safety, tax rates, the U.S. economy, job prospects, the national debt, the environment, and equality.

The results, which roughly cover the closely-watched first 100 days of the Biden administration, suggest the new president might have some growing optimism to back him in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, he tried to rally Americans about the months ahead during his inaugural address, saying “[w]e look ahead in our uniquely American way – restless, bold, optimistic – and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.”

‘A moment of great pain’

The poll – which surveyed more than 1,000 people over the weekend before Biden’s inauguration – came after the riot at the U.S. Capitol and a second impeachment of President Trump. Americans’ mood about the current state of the country was evident in other polls and very negative. A Washington Post-ABC News Poll found that 51% of respondents said recent events in Washington, D.C., had made them less confident in the stability of democracy in the United States.

TOPSHOT - US President Joe Biden (L) and First Lady Jill Biden (2nd L) appear on the Blue Room Balcony as they and family members (R) watch fireworks from the White House in Washington, DC on January 20, 2021. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden (left) watched fireworks from the Blue Room Balcony at the White House on Wednesday evening. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Another poll from Reuters/Ipsos found that only 15% percent of Americans said the country was heading in the right direction. That was a decline of six percentage points from just one month prior.

Jeffrey Engel, founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, explained in a Yahoo Finance interview how a dour outlook could co-exist with optimism.

We are in “a moment of great pain because of the pandemic, because of the economic crisis," Engel said. But “both of those things are likely to get better over the next year because of vaccines, and then once we get the vaccines going, the economy will pick up again.”

In total, the Harris poll found Americans split, with a plurality of respondents still pessimistic about the coming months on some key issues. This was especially pronounced when it came to the country’s finances: 61% of respondents expect the national debt will be worse three months from now, while 50% say the same about the U.S. economy. Both figures are down slightly, two and three percentage points, respectively, from October.

One area that saw mixed results was on the issue of tax rates: 44% of respondents expect tax rates to rise over the next three months, up 7 percentage points from October. Biden’s tax plan – outlined in detail during the campaign – promised a series of tax increases on corporations and the richest Americans, but a closely divided Congress means it’s no sure thing.

There was an equal percentage point change (from 13% to 20%) in the number of Americans who said they expected tax rates to get much or somewhat better in the months ahead. The big drop – 14 percentage points – was among those who foresaw no change.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

Read more:

How the economy Biden inherits compares to day 1 for Trump, Obama, and other presidents

This is the economic bill Biden’s circle is focused on as the next big thing after more stimulus

Trump’s businesses were already in a ‘billion-dollar hole’ before the Capitol riot fallout

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