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Political polarization affects economic views

Sept. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Americans’ views of the U.S. economy are increasingly colored by politics, making consumer sentiment a less reliable gauge of the outlook for the spending that drives growth.

Self-identified Democrats and Republicans surveyed for the Bloomberg Comfort Index are showing the least agreement on the trajectory of the economy since records began in 1990. Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, the likelihood that the two groups’ views will move in the same direction is less than half what it was under George W. Bush, and less than a third of that when Democrat Bill Clinton was in the White House.

Growing political polarization helps explain the trend, according to analysts such as Steve Jarding at Harvard University. As partisan gaps widen on issues from the overhaul of health-care policy to restructuring tax brackets, it has become harder for consumers to separate their political views from their assessment of the economy. What’s more, auto sales last month were the strongest since November 2007 even as consumer confidence declined in two surveys, showing that less optimism doesn’t always translate into weaker spending.

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