However unreliable polls can be, when two of them come up with the same results, odds are they’re onto something. So that’s why I’m writing about some recent surveys pointing to a genuinely remarkable conclusion: For all the recent accounts of how unhappy and divided Americans have become about politics and the state of the country, surprisingly great numbers of Americans don’t seem to be angry at all about these subjects. Indeed, the national mood has actually been getting better lately.
There’s much more evidence for division, and that’s important. (That’s why RealityChek will describe them tomorrow.) But there’s not evidence of enough division to overturn the conclusion above.
The more detailed of these polls came out from Gallup – it’s actually two surveys. The first reports that, as of last month, 41 percent of respondents described themselves as “satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time.” That may not sound especially high, and its a lot lower than the all-time (since the question began to be asked in 1985) high of 55 percent, set in February, 1990. But it’s the first time that this number topped 40 percent since July, 2005.
Especially interesting: In January, 2017, the month President Trump was inaugurated, the satisfaction figure was 26 percent. (Click on the link at the bottom of the above-linked summary for the full data series.) So it’s been on the rise – with some fluctuations – ever since.
A few days later, Gallup released some findings showing that this rising satisfaction is pretty widespread across issue areas. Specifically, the organization measured respondents’ satisfaction levels on 28 policy issues and how they’ve changed from January, 2017 to January, 2020. Increases were registered on eight of these counts, satisfaction stayed steady for 17 (meaning that it neither rose nor fell by more than four percentage points), and satisfaction fell for only three.
But the internals are even more interesting. For example, the biggest increase in satisfaction levels – from 46 percent to 68 percent – came in “the state of the nation’s economy.” The next two biggest increases have to do with America’s safety from terrorism (from 50 percent to 68 percent) and overall “military strength and preparedness” (from 66 percent to 81 percent). And how about number four – “the state of race relations”? There, satisfaction levels are much lower in absolute terms, but they’ve grown from 22 percent to 36 percent.
Also revealing – although there hasn’t been much improvement in reported satisfaction in “the overall quality of life” (four percentage points) its absolute level is a towering 84 percent. Also holding pretty steady but exhibiting more than 50 percent satisfaction rates – “the influence of organized religion” (currently 59 percent); “the quality of medical care” (52 percent); and “the acceptance of gays and lesbians” (56 percent).
Not that Gallup is portraying Americans as happy campers about everything. As mentioned above, although satisfaction with race relations has improved notably, it still stands at only 36 percent. And an eight percentage-point improvement over the last three years has still left the satisfaction level with “the way wealth and income are distributed in the US” at only 43 percent.
Registering steady but low satisfaction levels as well are some major issues, including tax payments and “the availability of affordable healthcare” (both at 37 percent); “the quality of public education” (35 percent); America’s “moral and ethical climate (32 percent); and all by itself at the bottom in absolute terms, national efforts “to deal with poverty and homelessness” (22 percent).
The biggest drop in satisfaction levels of the 28 issues studied concerned abortion policies, where they tumbled from 39 percent to 32 percent. Satisfaction is down notably, too, when it comes to “the level of immigration in the country today” (from 41 percent to 35 percent) and environmental quality (from 52 percent to 46 percent). But the absolute level of satisfaction regarding the latter is reasonably high, while those for abortion and immigration are much lower.
The abortion and immigration results, however, illustrate one reason for caution in interpretation. In both cases, dissatisfaction could stem from beliefs that policies are too strict or too indulgent. The same holds for gun control (and its steady 42 percent satisfaction level) and government regulation of business (where satisfaction inched up from a low-ish 38 percent to 41 percent). And the biggest political questions about all the issues examined here remains open: Which ones will strongly motivate Americans to vote for particular candidates, and which ones won’t matter much at all in upcoming elections?
The other poll, or set of polls, indicating greater overall satisfaction with the country’s situation comes from the RealClearPolitics.com website, which maintains a running tally of surveys on numerous topics and then synthesizes the results to come up with an average polling universe-wide reading.
The “RCP average” doesn’t display any internals material, but it unmistakably shows the same trend at the Gallup polls. Its average of surveys gauging views of the “Direction of Country” reveals that through the end of last month, Americans believing that the country is on the “wrong track” considerably outnumber those believing that the country is on the “right track” – as they have with only a very brief exception since RCP began posting these averages.
Yet the latest 16.6 percentage point lead held by the “wrong trackers” over the “right trackers” is just over half its size (30.9 percentage points) on January 21, 2017 – the day after the Trump inauguration.
Despite these kind of upbeat results, however, the Gallup surveys also make clear that major splits still generally divide Americans on the issues mentioned above, although some of these gaps aren’t exactly yawning, and the scale and very nature of many others is pretty surprising. That’s what RealityChek will be describing in tomorrow’s post.