Only 17 Percent of Americans Think U.S. Economy Is #1

AP Photo/Richard Drew
AP Photo/Richard Drew
Washington, DC

A new survey from Gallup finds Americans split on whether or not it’s important the the U.S. economy is the largest in the world. While the American economic position has been taken granted for more than a generation, just 50 percent of Americans think maintaining this status is “important.” Almost half, 49 percent, say it is “not that important.”

This ambivalence could simply be a reluctant acceptance of the nation’s reduced economic fortunes. Just one-in-six Americans, 17 percent, believe the U.S. economy is currently the largest in the world. Right before the turn of this century, 40 percent of Americans knew the US economy was #1 in the world.

At that time, only 41 percent of Americans thought it was “important” the country was number 1, while 56 percent said it wasn’t that important. It is easy to be magnanimous when your position in the world is unquestioned.

Indeed, according to the survey, the number of Americans who think it’s important the U.S. stays number 1 economically has risen as the nation’s position has become less certain. The question has also become strangely partisan.

In the early 1990s, the same percentages of Republicans and Democrats felt it was important the U.S. was the largest economy in the world. Today, however, a wide gulf has opened up between the parties. Among Republicans, 64 percent believe it is important for the U.S. economy to be number 1. Just 41 percent of Democrats believe that today.

Interestingly, the partisan divide on the question first appeared after 2001. Since then, the divide has widened, through both Republican and Democrat Administrations in the White House.

It is likely the U.S. will lose its #1 economic position soon. By one measure, purchase power parity, the Chinese economy overtook the U.S. several months ago. China, however, doesn’t have the most transparent economic statistics, and the nation is sitting on the mother of all asset bubbles. Best not to bet on a handover of the #1 trophy any time soon.

Americans, however, seem to believe that the Chinese economy is already the largest in the world. Perception is often more important than reality. In this new reality, it seems, Americans are shrugging their shoulders.

An America of dwindling expectations is the new normal.