Republicans' Life Ratings Plunge, Democrats' Improve

Republicans' Life Ratings Plunge, Democrats' Improve

by Elizabeth Mendes

Overall, Americans' life ratings sink to 13-month low

WASHINGTON, DC -- Republicans' ratings of their lives worsened significantly in November, with their collective Life Evaluation Index score dropping to 40.3, from 47.0 in October. Independents' life ratings also declined last month, but to a lesser degree. Democrats became slightly more upbeat -- their Life Evaluation Index score climbed to 56.9, from 53.7 in October.

Life Evaluation Index Scores, Monthly Averages by Political PArty

Democrats' life ratings have been generally improving in 2012, while Republicans' have been mostly on the decline. The trajectory of independents' life ratings is more similar to the trend for Republicans than that of Democrats.

The gap between Democrats and Republicans on the Life Evaluation Index is now 16.6 points -- the largest it has ever been. This is also a drastic change from early 2008, when Republicans' life ratings frequently surpassed Democrats' by more than 10 points.

These data show a clear, although complex, relationship between political views and life ratings. In 2008, when a Republican -- George W. Bush -- was in the White House, Republicans' life ratings far surpassed those of Democrats. This began to change when President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. Interestingly -- and perhaps because of the compounding effects of the financial crisis -- Republicans' life ratings did not decline as significantly nor did Democrats' ratings increase as much in November 2008, when Obama won his first term in office, as they did this November.

Democrats' and Republicans' life ratings generally remained relatively close through most of Obama's first term -- Democrats did not become much more positive. This may have been due to the recession and economic crisis -- the effects of these issues on everyone's life outlook seem to have far outweighed any political bonus Democrats might have otherwise experienced at the time.

The two groups began to diverge again in February of this year. Democrats started to become much more optimistic, while Republicans got more pessimistic. Why this happened at the end of Obama's first term and amid a heated presidential election season is unclear. It could be that Democrats felt more hopeful about their candidate than Republicans did about GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Gallup found in three separate polls conducted in May, August, and October that Democrats were more likely to think Obama would win in November than Republicans were to think Romney would win.

The Life Evaluation Index is part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and is calculated off of how Americans rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale.

The exact questions are:

  • Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?
  • Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. Just your best guess, on which step do you think you will stand in the future, say about five years from now?

The decline in Republicans' overall Life Evaluation Index score is due entirely to a drop in how they rate their future life. Republicans became much more pessimistic in November about how good they think their lives will be five years from now. They rated their lives five years from now an average of 7.0 last month -- the lowest for this group on record.

Republicans' future life rating also now about matches their current life rating of 6.9. This is out of synch with the typical pattern -- most people tend to rate their future life higher than their current life.

Current Life Ratings by PartyFuture Life Ratings by Party

Overall, Americans' Life Ratings Sink to 13-Month Low

Fueled by Republicans' and independents' declining ratings, Americans' collective Life Evaluation Index score fell for the third month in a row to 47.2 in November, the lowest since October of last year.

The current decline mirrors the downward trend found in August and September of 2011 amid tough debt ceiling negotiations and the related downgrading of the U.S. credit rating.

Life Evaluation Index Monthly Averages

Americans' life ratings remain better than the lows seen during the 2008/2009 financial crisis, but are lower than the all-time high of 51 recorded in January 2011.

Gallup classifies Americans who rate their current life a 7 or higher and their future life an 8 or higher as "thriving." Respondents are classified as "suffering" if they rate their current life 0 to 4 and their future life 0 to 4. Those who are neither "thriving" nor "suffering" are classified as "struggling."

The percentage of Americans who rate their lives poorly enough to be considered suffering rose to 4.1% in November -- the highest level since March 2009. At that time, fewer Americans were thriving and more were struggling.

Thriving, Struggling, and Suffering

Americans rated their current lives an average of 6.9 in November and future lives an average of 7.6.

Bottom Line

Americans in general are becoming more pessimistic about their lives, but it is Republicans in particular whose outlook is worsening. In the same month that their opposing party's candidate clinched a re-election victory, Republicans' average Life Evaluation Index score dropped nearly seven points. Democrats, however, became more positive in November -- creating a larger-than-ever divide in how members of the two parties view their lives.

The unknown outcome of the fiscal cliff situation may also be contributing to Republicans' worsening views of their future lives, as they may feel less confident than Democrats that their party leaders will have the leverage to obtain what they want. The eventual compromise -- or lack thereof -- will likely have an effect in some way on how all Americans feel about their lives. Whether it leaves Democrats or Republicans -- or neither -- feeling better, will depend on the details.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks wellbeing in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Nov. 1-30, 2012, with a random sample of 30,294 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

Life Evaluation Index figures from January 2008 to April 2009 reflect re-estimates calculated to address context effects that Gallup discovered after the data were originally published.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

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 cellphone 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. Cellphone 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 (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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