Since it’s a presidential election year, we’ve heard even more than usual about polls, and their dominance of the political news will only increase through the upcoming election. If only there was any reason to believe that all this polling will make us much better informed about the choices we face, or even about our views of these choices. Certainly, it’s tough to justify much optimism after looking at the Gallup organization’s work yesterday.
In one survey, Gallup asked Americans whether they are “satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time.” Just 29 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction, which, as Gallup observed continued “the trend of low satisfaction levels since 2007.” Since Gallup began asking this question, in 1979, the average “satisfaction level” has been 37 percent.
It’s easy to take this result and conclude that it cuts in favor of Republican political candidates this year, since Democrats hold the White House, since presidents usually take most of the blame or credit for the state of the union, and since this kind of question is seen as a key determinant of how successful the president’s party is likely to be. Also of note – during the satisfaction Obama years, the satisfaction level has averaged only 24 percent. So that’s another reason to suppose that voters are hankering for a change.
But on the very same day, Gallup released a survey pointing to exactly the opposite type of conclusions. The company asked respondents whether they think that now is a “good time or a bad time to find a quality job.” Those optimistic about the job market came to 43 percent of respondents – a level so high that it’s only slightly below the record of 48 percent, registered in 2007, just before the recession struck. (This data series began in 2001.) And when President Obama was first elected, in 2008, this reading was in the 20s.
It’s of course possible that Americans aren’t thinking of job-related issues when they rate the current state of national affairs. Maybe they have many other, more important matters on their minds? Yet other Gallup research casts major doubt on this possibility. It has consistently found that huge majorities of Americans in both parties – in the high 80s and 90s percent, view “the economy and jobs” as “extremely or very important to their vote for president.” That looks awfully promising for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and awfully gloomy for her likely rival, Republican Donald Trump.
To be fair, “terrorism and national security” are also seen as major keys to presidential voting by the electorate according to Gallup, and climate change and race relations (mainly among Democrats) rank as major concerns as well. But the latter two in particular register well below the economic issues.
Maybe next week, the polling concern will come out with results that resolve the apparent disconnect between the public’s views of the economy and its views of the nation’s course in general. Until it does, however, I’ll be vacillating back and forth over whether I should be pitying the politicians who need somehow to make sense of these contradictions, or simply swearing off polls altogether.