Wide Gulf in Personal vs. National Satisfaction

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Only 15% satisfied with national conditions, 86% with personal lives

PRINCETON, NJ -- A recent Gallup Poll finds a major gap between Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the country and their satisfaction with their personal lives, with whites, blacks, and Hispanics all showing the same pattern.

These results are based on Gallup's annual Minority Rights and Relations survey, conducted June 5-July 6. The survey of 1,935 U.S. adults included interviews with more than 500 Hispanics and more than 600 blacks, weighted to their proper proportion in the overall population.

Over the eight-year history of the Minority Rights and Relations poll, Americans have consistently expressed much greater satisfaction with their personal lives than with national conditions, but this is easily the largest gulf between the two since 2001.

While Americans have become increasingly less satisfied with the way things are going nationally as the decade has progressed -- the percentage satisfied has dropped from 51% to 15% since 2001 -- their personal satisfaction was essentially unchanged from 2001 through 2007, varying only from 88% to 91%.

This year's decline in personal satisfaction to 86% is the first statistically significant change in that measure seen since 2001. But the decline in U.S. satisfaction from 29% to 15% over the past year is much greater, resulting in the largest gap to date between the satisfaction measures.

The decline in national satisfaction over the past year has come primarily among whites and Hispanics. Blacks' reported satisfaction levels were already quite low in 2007, and have remained so. In prior years, whites and Hispanics were much more likely than blacks to say they were satisfied with the state of the nation, but now, the three groups give similarly low ratings.

Personal Satisfaction Dips

Even though Americans' reported personal satisfaction is still relatively high at 86%, it is the lowest reading Gallup has measured in the eight Minority Relations polls. Typically, 90% or more of Americans are satisfied with their personal lives.

Moreover, just 46% of Americans now say they are "very satisfied" with their personal lives, down 11 percentage points from a year ago, and the first time this percentage has fallen below the majority level.

As is the case with national satisfaction, the decline in high personal satisfaction ratings has come chiefly among whites and Hispanics, with black satisfaction holding steady at the previous low level. Typically, whites have been most likely to say they are very satisfied with their personal lives, with blacks the least likely to do so, and Hispanics in the middle.

Declining personal satisfaction levels over the past year are more apparent among upper- and middle-income respondents than among those residing in lower-income households. The greatest decline -- 19 points -- has come among those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $75,000. The larger drop in personal satisfaction among upper- and middle-income respondents is evident among blacks, Hispanics, and whites, so the income effects are not confined to one racial or ethnic group.

Even with the steep declines from 2007, upper- and middle-income respondents remain more likely than lower-income respondents to say they are very satisfied with their personal lives.

Implications

Even though the decline in national satisfaction compared to 2007 is much greater than the decline in personal satisfaction, the latter change may in some ways be more notable because those numbers had been highly stable prior to this year. This clearly suggests that the economic troubles are affecting not only how Americans view national conditions, but also to a degree how they assess their own situations. And this re-assessment is taking place among members of most racial, ethnic, and income groups.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,935 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 5-July 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 ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 702 non-Hispanic whites, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 608 non-Hispanic blacks, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 502 Hispanics, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points (120 of the 502 interviews with Hispanics were conducted in Spanish).

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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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