Satisfaction With U.S. Historically Low for Midterm Year

by Jeffrey M. Jones

An average of 23% of Americans satisfied with way things are going in U.S.

PRINCETON, NJ -- So far in 2010, an average of 23% of Americans have been satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is well below the 40% historical average Gallup has measured since 1979, when it began asking this question. The 2010 average is also the lowest Gallup has measured in a midterm election year, dating to 1982.

Average Satisfaction Ratings, Midterm Election Years

Satisfaction with the way things are going is a key indicator to watch leading up to Election Day in November. Low satisfaction ratings have typically been associated with greater net seat change between parties in Congress in midterm election years, as was the case for the 1982, 1994, and 2006 elections. In each of those years, the average satisfaction rating was no higher than 33%. In 1994 and 2006, as is the case this year, the same party controlled the presidency and Congress heading into the elections, and party control of Congress changed hands after Election Day.

In years with higher satisfaction ratings, such as 1986 and 1998, the number of congressional seats changing parties was low.

Democrats are clearly vulnerable to losing their majority this year -- Gallup's generic ballot tracking shows that registered voters are divided in their current vote preferences for Congress, but given the usual Republican turnout advantage, the Republicans appear to hold the upper hand at this point.

The low satisfaction ratings could explain the significant anti-incumbent attitudes apparent in opinion polls and manifested in recent primary election results, which have seen incumbents or party establishment candidates defeated by political outsiders.

Gallup's latest update on satisfaction, from a May 3-6 poll, finds 24% of Americans satisfied. After a slight increase from 19% in early March to 27% in early April -- perhaps tied to the passage of healthcare reform legislation -- satisfaction ratings are moving lower again. This continues the relatively poor ratings Gallup has measured for most of the year, after a recent peak of 36% in early August 2009.

2009-2010 Trend: In General, Are You Satisfied or Dissatisfied With the Way Things Are Going in the United States at This Time?

The 2009-2010 trend continues a long slump in national satisfaction. The percentage of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States has consistently been below the historical average of 40% since July 2005, and has not exceeded 50% in more than six years, since January 2004.

The all-time-high satisfaction rating of 71% was measured in February 1999, while the all-time low of 7% occurred in October 2008.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,029 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 3-6, 2010. 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.

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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