How long will Americans wait for economic change?
For Americans, the question is: How long will the economic crisis last? For President Barack Obama, it's how long will the public wait before they start demanding results?
For some people, like Ron Zick of Glenview, Ill., there's no time to waste.
"My level of patience for the entire situation we are in is zero," said Zick, a small business owner.
Others aren't holding out hope for a turnaround anytime soon.
"It's not going to be a matter of months," said Patricia Irwin of Sharpsburg, Md. "There are so many things that are seriously wrong."
Irwin, a Democrat who voted for Obama in November, supports the president's handling of the economy thus far, but she said she's not expecting to see any measurable change for at least a year.
That's in line with a majority of Americans, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in January. The poll found that 72 percent of Americans believe it will take more than a year to see any noticeable improvement in the economy. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll out this week found a similar sentiment, with two-thirds saying Obama has more than a year to turn the economy around before people start holding him responsible.
The president himself is calling for patience, saying repeatedly that he's more concerned with putting the country on a path toward long-term financial stability than finding a quick fix.
"What I'm looking for is not the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market, but the long-term ability for the United States and the entire world economy to regain its footing," Obama said this week.
But why are notoriously impatient Americans willing to give the president so much breathing room?
Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said Obama is not only benefiting from the honeymoon period often afforded new presidents, but also the extraordinary scope of the economic problems.
"I think people are going to be a little more patient this time around," West said. "They understand that President Obama inherited this, he did not create this problem."
But eventually Obama will own the problem.
"If by 2010, 2011, we don't start to see improvement, then his political fortunes will start to decline," West said.
Republicans in Congress are hoping the public starts holding Democrats, from Obama on down, accountable sooner than that, specifically, before the 2010 midterm elections. In recent days, the GOP has countered the idea that Democrats merely inherited the economic problems by pointing out that key Democrats voted for higher spending that Republicans say added to the nation's fiscal woes.
The Obama administration projects the overall economy will shrink by 1.2 percent this year, but rebound with solid 3.2 percent growth in 2010, followed by 4 percent growth in the three following years. That's more optimistic than predictions from most private economists.
Part of Obama's task is to give the country a psychological boost, West said.
But Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University, said Obama will have to show Americans tangible improvements.
"They can see whether or not they have a job, they can see whether or not they can maintain their house, and they can see whether or not their investments and savings go up rather than down," Wayne said.
Those are the things stay-at-home mother Dawn Simmons is watching. The Republican from Wallace, S.C., understands why the president is thinking long-term, but wonders why more can't be done for people suffering now.
"I figure he's doing what he thinks is best," she said. "The problem is it's not helping anybody yet."
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Washington and Mark Carlson in Chicago contributed to this report.