Americans' Satisfaction With U.S. Remains Near 32-Year Low

by Elizabeth Mendes

More than half are very dissatisfied, the highest on record

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States remains at 11% in September as it was in August, the lowest readings on this measure since December 2008 -- and among the worst on record in a trend that dates to 1979.

1979-2011 trend: In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?

Americans' level of satisfaction in September ties August's level for the lowest during Barack Obama's presidency. The current abysmal satisfaction level comes as Americans are more pessimistic than ever toward the U.S. government and deeply discouraged about the economy. Further, this measure relates to election outcomes, with lower satisfaction rates often translating to poorer incumbent performance.

Republicans' Satisfaction Lowest on Record

Three percent of Republicans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States -- the lowest level since Bill Clinton took office in 1993. Republicans' satisfaction has registered in the single digits through much of 2011, including 5% in April.

Independents are similarly solemn, with 9% satisfied with the direction of the country. Democrats are a bit more positive, at 20%, but their satisfaction is essentially the lowest since Obama took office.

1993-2011 trend: Satisfaction With the United States, by Party

Republicans' and Democrats' satisfaction with the nation is closely tied to whether the president in office is from their party. For example, Democrats' satisfaction improved when Obama took office in January 2009. That Democrats are less satisfied with the state of the country now than at any time during Obama's more than 2 1/2 years in office may put the president in a risky position among his base heading into the election.

More Than Half of Americans Are "Very Dissatisfied" -- Most Ever

In a follow-up question gauging how intense Americans' satisfaction or dissatisfaction is, 56% say they are "very dissatisfied." This is the highest level Gallup has ever found on this trend, which extends over a decade and a half. Just 1% of Americans say they are "very satisfied."

1995-2011 trend: Are you very [satisfied/dissatisfied], or just somewhat [satisfied/dissatisfied]?

Conservatives (67%) and Republicans (66%) are more likely to say they are very dissatisfied than are moderates (48%), liberals (52%), independents (58%), and Democrats (47%).


Americans' low level of satisfaction, coupled with their historically high levels of negativity about the U.S. government at this point, a little more than a year before the November 2012 presidential election, do not bode well for President Obama's current re-election chances and perhaps for the fate of incumbent congressmen and congresswomen in Washington. Republicans are particularly upset about the state of the nation, which may drive them to the polls in November 2012.

While the election remains a long way off, economic conditions (which are related to satisfaction) including the unemployment situation would need to make a significant turnaround for Americans' attitudes to improve. On that front, Americans are not hopeful that the economy will be any better a year from now.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 8-11, 2011, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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 landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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