State of the Union: Both Good and Bad

by Lydia Saad

Americans mostly satisfied with 9 areas; dissatisfied with 14

PRINCETON, NJ -- The national mood in advance of President George W. Bush's upcoming State of the Union address is not positive. Given scant public approval for how the nation's elected leaders are doing their jobs, and even lower consumer optimism about the nation's economy, Americans are highly discontent with the direction of the country. Public attitudes have been trending down on these indicators for the past several years, and are now, collectively, at their worst levels of Bush's presidency.

That's the broad picture. Focusing on some specifics, however, the public's take on the state of the nation is not all bad. According to Gallup's annual Mood of the Nation poll, Americans are satisfied with some important aspects of life and public policy in the United States. They just happen to be dissatisfied with a greater number of things at the moment.

What's Working, and What Isn't?

Out of 28 aspects of the country rated in the Jan. 4-6, 2008, survey, a majority of Americans are satisfied with 9, and Americans are about equally divided on another 5. (That leaves majority dissatisfaction with 14 of the aspects tested.)

The most positive ratings are for the overall quality of life, the position of women in the nation, and the opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard. A majority of Americans are satisfied with an additional six items. Taken together, the results suggest Americans feel the American Dream is at least viable, if not thriving.

Guns laws, crime policies, abortion policies, the quality of the environment, and the quality of medical care all get roughly split reviews from the public.

The most negative ratings are seen for 14 varied cultural, economic, and foreign and domestic policy issues. No more than 4 in 10 Americans are satisfied with current conditions in any of these areas, with the least satisfaction shown for the level of immigration into the country and the availability of affordable healthcare. Americans are also substantially more dissatisfied than satisfied with government policies on poverty, Social Security and Medicare, energy, and taxes.

Gallup has asked these questions annually since 2001. Changes in the ratings for each item over that time are discussed by Gallup Editor in Chief Frank Newport in a video report (see "State of the Nation: 2001 and Today" in Related Items), and will be detailed in a forthcoming article on

National Security Elicits Most Satisfaction, on Average

The 28 individual issues rated in the January Mood survey can be grouped into five distinct categories: national security, economic security, domestic issues, cultural flashpoints (such as abortion, homosexuality, and religion), and the American landscape (including the overall quality of life, the U.S. system of government, and corporate power, among others).

On this basis, Americans appear to be most satisfied with national security, followed by cultural flashpoints and the American landscape. They are least satisfied with economic security and domestic issues.

More specifically, public satisfaction with the nation's security from terrorism and the nation's military strength and preparedness averages 62%, with a majority of Americans satisfied with conditions in both areas.

A majority of Americans are also content with the seven cultural flashpoint issues rated, averaging 51% satisfied. However, satisfaction on these items varies widely, and ranges from 72% for the position of women to only 38% for the acceptance of homosexuality.

Satisfaction with the five aspects of the American landscape averages 50%, ranging from 82% for the quality of life and 53% for the U.S. system of government, down to only 35% for the size and influence of major corporations.

Satisfaction with economic security averages only 39%, with Americans negative about four of the five specific economic issues. Still, most are satisfied with the ability of Americans to get ahead by working hard.

Less than half of Americans are satisfied with any of the nine non-economic issues that comprise the "domestic issues" category, resulting in a 37% average satisfaction score.

Bottom Line

In his State of the Union address next week, President Bush will likely address what is most troubling Americans about the country at the start of 2008. According to Gallup's 2008 Mood survey, this includes such domestic issues as the economy, immigration, healthcare, campaign finance, poverty, energy policy, and education. (The war in Iraq will also be an important subject for Bush, but is not addressed directly in the annual Mood of the Nation's list of enduring topics.)

State of the Union speeches are traditionally also used to amplify all that is going well in the country. Based on the data reviewed here, most Americans would agree with Bush were he to tout the overall quality of life in the country, the nation's military strength, safety from terrorism, and the freedom and opportunity Americans have to achieve the American Dream.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,023 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 4-6, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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