A majority of the country are not optimistic about our future, according to a new Gallup poll out today. The numbers haven't been this low since 1979 - the days of Jimmy Carter.
U.S. President Barack Obama begins his second term at a time when Americans are as negative about the state of the country and its prospects going forward as they have been in more than three decades. Fewer than four in 10 Americans (39%) rate the current status of the U.S. at the positive end of a zero to 10 scale. This is about the same as in 2010, but it is fewer than have said so at any point since 1979. As they usually are, Americans are more upbeat in their predictions of where the U.S. will be in five years (48% positive), but this is also lower than at any time since 1979. Fifty-five percent of Americans say the state of the nation five years ago was positive.
These assessments are based on a ladder scale question Gallup has used periodically since 1959. This question asks Americans to rate their feelings about the country presently, in five years, and five years ago using a zero to 10 scale, where zero equals the worst possible situation and 10 equals the best possible situation.
This latest assessment was included in Gallup's Mood of the Nation survey, conducted Jan. 7-10, 2013. Full results appear on page 2.
The 39% of Americans who give a six to 10 rating when asked to evaluate the nation's current status is similar to the 37% who said the same three years ago. Prior to that, however, assessments were generally more positive, including a 73% six to 10 rating in January 2001 -- the highest on record. The three previous points in time when ratings were as low as or lower than the 2013 rating were in August 1979 (34%), April 1974 (33%), and January 1971 (39%). The 1979 measure came at a time when the economy was in bad shape and inflation was rampant, while the 1974 measure came in the midst of the Watergate scandal. When Gallup first asked the question in August 1959, 68% of Americans rated the state of the nation in the six to 10 range.
As one might expect, there is a split between Democrats and Republicans:
Americans' attitudes about the status of the U.S. are closely connected with their political views, as are many attitudinal assessments in today's highly polarized political environment. Republicans look back five years ago (when George W. Bush was still president) and view the state of the nation then as much more positive than do Democrats. On the other hand, Democrats look ahead and project a much more positive state of the nation in five years than do Republicans. In short, Republicans overwhelmingly say that the best times are behind the country, while Democrats look ahead and say the best times are ahead. The two political groups also differ in their assessment of the current state of the nation, with Democrats much more positive about the current state of the nation.
It's interesting that partisan affiliation can cause such delusional thinking. Five years ago, the housing bubble had popped, unemployment was rising, and the country was sliding into recession. For 74% of Republicans to think that the state of the nation at this time was positive means either the GOP has a collective memory loss or they exhibit a stubborn refusal to face reality.
Similarly, for 56% of Democrats to believe that things are just peachy today reveals a myopic and delusional faith in the president. Whenever a Democrat talks about "recovery," people in my neck of the woods are astonished. We have a growing long term unemployment problem because there simply are no jobs. Few where I live have any illusions about the real state of the nation.
I don't know what the state of the nation will be 5 years from now. But I, too, am terribly pessimistic. I have no faith in either party to do what's necessary to bring the US back to prominence.