One word can describe how Americans are feeling about the way things are going: bad. That’s the finding of a new Gallup poll out Wednesday that measures the state of the nation, and it’s what a lot of other data tells us as well.
Any sense of optimism that was apparent after vaccines were developed for the coronavirus has abated, and a lot of Americans are not pleased with what is going on in their daily lives, the state of our nation and the state of our politics.
Gallup has been asking Americans how they are feeling about different aspects of life and policy issues for the last two decades. And this year, across those 29 different measurements, just 38% of Americans say they’re satisfied.
In 2020, before the pandemic began, an average of 48% of Americans said they were satisfied. There was a big drop in 2021, when 41% indicated they were happy with what was going on these 29 different metrics.
What this data indicates is that, nearly two years into the pandemic in the United States, there has not been any real recovery in how Americans believe things are going.
When you break it down by aspects of life and policy issues, the same story emerges. Just 41% are satisfied on the seven aspects of life issues measured consistently over the last two decades. These aspects include quality of life, the system of government and how it works, and the influence of organized religion. That 41% is statistically insignificantly different from the 39% who were satisfied last year, which was the lowest on record.
On policy issues, 35% are satisfied on the 16 areas measured consistently over the last two decades. Some of these policy issues include the nation’s abortion policies, the policies to reduce crime, the state of the economy and the quality of education in our nation. This 35% is the lowest ever measured.
Because there are more policy issues than aspects of life issues measured, this means that, on average, Americans are less satisfied with the way things are going than at any point in the last two decades.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising, given everything we’ve seen in the polling.
The General Social Survey has been asking Americans since 1972 whether, all things considered, they’re very happy, pretty happy or not too happy. The percentage who said very happy outran the percentage who said not too happy in every poll taken before the pandemic.
Today, 24% indicated they were not too happy, compared with 19% who said they were very happy. The former is a record high, while the latter is a record low. The rest, as Christopher Ingraham noted, are in the “pretty happy” camp, which hasn’t changed much since 2018.
But it’s not just where American happiness with daily life currently is, it’s also about a lack of optimism for the future.
Look at a Marist College poll from December. Only 49% of Americans were more optimistic than pessimistic about how things were going to go in the world in 2022. This was the first time since Marist started asking the question in 2009 that the optimistic percentage fell below 50%.
Heading into 2021, 56% of Americans had been more optimistic than pessimistic. This suggests that despite the pandemic, some Americans had hope for 2021. This hope was dashed.
Pandemic fatigue likely is a big driver of that negativity. President Joe Biden’s net approval (approve minus disapprove) on handling the virus has gone from about +30 points to negative territory.
More than a quarter (28%) of Americans now believe that the outbreak will never be under control in Monmouth University polling, and a majority (60%) think it will take at least a year, if ever. At the beginning of 2021, only 30% felt that way.
Americans are looking for a way out of the pandemic, which could be why 70% told Monmouth that it was time to accept that the coronavirus is here to stay and we need to move on.
Of course, even if Americans become more satisfied with how the coronavirus is going in the country, it won’t solve longer-term issues with happiness about where we are politically.
More Americans have said the country is going in the wrong direction than have said it is on the right track consistently since the early 2000s. There was a slight jump to a decade-high percentage of Americans (in the mid-40s on average) agreeing in mid-2021 that the country was going in the right direction; however, this has dropped back below 30% in recent data.
The unhappiness with our country is seen especially well in how people feel about the two major political parties. Almost every poll Gallup has taken over the last decade shows that less than a majority have favorable opinions of the Democratic and Republican parties.
There’s a reason why a clear plurality of Americans identify as independents instead of as Democrats or Republicans, when initially asked.
When it comes to the midterm elections, nearly a third of voters say it doesn’t matter who wins.
Indeed, we likely won’t solve our collective issues overnight. Hopefully we can get back to a better normal. Because right now, these numbers are just downright depressing.