Americans Deeply Dissatisfied With Nation's Governance

by Frank Newport

Democrats much more negative than Republicans


PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans remain deeply dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed today, fueled in large part by the negative sentiments of Democrats and independents. The current level of satisfaction is the lowest it has been this decade, and is as low as at any other point at which the question was asked since September 1973. There is no indication that Democrats have become more pleased with governance as a result of their takeover of Congress after last November's election.

Basic Data

The question at issue in this analysis is straightforward: "On the whole, would you say you are satisfied or dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed?"

Gallup has asked this question every September since 2001 as part of the Gallup Poll Governance survey, and before then in the early 1970s, in 1984, and in 1991.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed today, while only 31% are satisfied. This marks the most negative assessment of governance in response to this question since Gallup's September 1973 poll, conducted in the midst of the ongoing Watergate scandal then engulfing the Nixon administration. (At that time, 26% were satisfied and 66% were dissatisfied.)

Since 2002, there has been a steady decline in satisfaction with the way the nation is being governed. This is not a surprise, of course, given the fact that most measures of presidential and Congressional approval have declined throughout that same time period. Still, these data provide further confirmation of the fact that the status of the national government in the eyes of average Americans is now extremely low.

Partisan Differences

There is a deep divide in the response to this governance question by partisanship. While more than 6 out of 10 Republicans say they are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, only 18% of independents and Democrats agree.

While this partisan rift has been evident in each poll conducted since 2001, it has become more exaggerated in recent years. For example, there was a gap of 29 percentage points between the satisfaction level of Republicans and Democrats in September 2001, compared to the 45-point gap today.

One might have expected that Democrats' satisfaction with the way things are being governed in the nation today would have improved this year given that Democrats took over control of the House and the Senate at the beginning of 2007. But this did not occur -- Democrats are as negative now as they have been in the past two years.

It may be that respondents think solely about the presidency in answering this question. Or it may be that Democrats have decided that their party's control of Congress has made little difference in the overall direction of the country and the way in which it is being governed.

At any rate, it is also important to note that Republicans' satisfaction with the way the nation is being governed (63%), although high on a relative basis compared to independents and Democrats, is the lowest it has been across the seven September polls beginning in 2001 -- and is also 13 points lower than last year.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 14-16, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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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