Americans' Satisfaction With U.S. Doubles Since January

by Frank Newport

At 34%, however, satisfaction is still low on an absolute basis

PRINCETON, NJ -- Although still low on an absolute basis, the percentage of Americans who are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States has doubled since Barack Obama took office, moving from 17% in mid-January to 34% for the week ending May 3. All of the increase has come from Democrats (among whom a majority are now satisfied) and, to a lesser degree, independents; Republicans' satisfaction is no different now than it was in mid-January, and remains very low.


Gallup's satisfaction measure was at 17% when measured Jan. 19-25, the week Obama was inaugurated. After remaining low for much of February, satisfaction began to climb in March and through April to its current 34% level.

A situation in which only a third of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going is, of course, not high on an absolute basis, but still represents the highest level of satisfaction Gallup has measured since early 2007. The all-time high on this measure in Gallup's 30-year history of asking the question is 71% in February 1999, at the end of the Bill Clinton impeachment situation. The all-time low is 7% from a poll last October, conducted shortly after Congress rejected but then ultimately passed financial rescue legislation designed to prop up failing financial institutions, and after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the government bailout of AIG in September.

Obama took office this January with satisfaction levels lower than they were at the start of his immediate two predecessors' terms. In January 2001, the month in which George W. Bush was inaugurated, U.S. satisfaction was higher, at 56% (and slipped slightly, to 50%, by April of that year). In January 1993, when Bill Clinton took office, satisfaction was at 29% (and fell slightly to 25% by February, the only time Gallup measured satisfaction in Clinton's first four months in office).


Major Partisan Differences

The data represented in the accompanying graph make it clear how much partisanship has driven the recent changes in overall levels of satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S.


Although all partisan groups had low satisfaction levels in the waning months of the Bush administration, Republicans' satisfaction was still higher than that of either independents or Democrats, as long as Bush remained president. By the week of Obama's inauguration, however, there was an about-face, with Democrats and independents showing increased levels of satisfaction, while Republicans' satisfaction dropped. Since then, Republicans have maintained their dour look on the way things are going in the country, with satisfaction levels fluctuating week by week between 7% and the current 14%. Democrats' satisfaction, meanwhile, has gained steadily, going from 18% to the current 51%. Satisfaction among independents has almost doubled, from 16% to 31%.

Comparison to "Right Track/Wrong Track" Measures

Gallup's satisfaction measure is different in some ways from the "right track, wrong track" measure used by other polling organizations, although all of these general measures tend to trend in the same direction. Asking the public whether things are on the "right track or the wrong track" most likely captures attitudes that are more about direction, momentum, or expectations. Asking Americans whether they are satisfied with the way things are going most likely captures more of an assessment of the current situation. This helps explain why Gallup's satisfaction measure, at 34%, remains at least somewhat lower than some current "right track/wrong track" measures that are as high as 50% in an ABC News/Washington Post poll (April 21-24), 43% in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (April 23-26), and 41% in a CBS News/New York Times poll (April 22-26). All of these measures, like Gallup's, have shown significant movement in the positive direction since January.

Survey Methods

Weekly results presented in this analysis are based on telephone interviews with approximately 3,500 national adults, aged 18 and older, each week, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on each week's total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

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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