skip to main content
Polling Matters
Positive Notes From Americans Amid the Bad News
Polling Matters

Positive Notes From Americans Amid the Bad News

This July Fourth, the American public has plenty to worry about. U.S. adults are dissatisfied in general with the way things are going in the country and have record-low American pride. They are worried about the coronavirus and dissatisfied with the state of race relations, and the majority have negative views of the job being done by both the executive and legislative branches of government. Most news coverage is negative, aided and abetted by the media's time-honored assumption that bad news is what journalists are duty-bound to report. Plus, the gloom and doom is accelerated by the rabid political polarization that produces leaders whose main purpose appears to be to find fault with and villainize the opposition.

But are there some things going right today? I thought it might be useful on this holiday weekend to briefly highlight a few points from public opinion polling that provide some optimism and hope that all is not lost.

  1. Despite everything that is going on in today's world, Americans remain more likely to report having experienced a lot of happiness and enjoyment "yesterday" than to say they experienced any of a list of more negative emotions, including stress, anxiety and worry. Our latest Gallup Panel weekly update shows 74% of Americans experienced a lot of happiness the day before the survey, along with 67% who experienced enjoyment. By contrast, 52% said they experienced a lot of stress yesterday (the highest negative emotion tested), along with 47% who experienced worry, 38% anxiety and 27% sadness. Clearly, on a day-by-day basis, more of us have positive moments than negative ones.

  2. Americans are quite positive about their personal future. When asked to rate their life five years from now using a zero-to-10 scale, where zero means the worst possible life and 10 means the best possible life, an overwhelming 90% put themselves at points 6 through 10, on the positive end of the scale. That includes 69% who project their life in five years to be an 8, 9 or 10. Only 5% expect a more negative life, represented by ratings of zero to 4. Americans are also positive when rating their current life, where they personally stand right now, with 78% characterizing their life as a 6 to 10, while 11% put themselves in the middle and another 11% at points zero to 4. We may be beset by the virus, racial inequality, and other international and domestic problems as a nation -- but on the micro level, we human beings appear to be smiling more than we are frowning.

  3. The majority of Americans appear to be getting along OK financially. Over half of Americans (53%) rate their personal finances as excellent or good, while 14% rate their finances as poor. Additionally, well less than half of Americans (37%) say their financial situation is getting worse. Less than 15% say they are drawing on savings or going into debt to meet monthly expenses.

  4. Being together with family apparently still matters to many Americans. When asked to name their favorite way to spend an evening, more Americans (33%) cite staying home with family than name any other single activity (watching television comes in second, at 23%). Americans also enjoy relaxing, reading, getting outdoors and sewing.

  5. Marriage as an institution has retained its appeal to Americans, even as actual marriage rates may be declining for economic and other reasons. Gallup's May update shows that 69% of Americans have been married -- and of the remaining three in 10 U.S. adults who have never been married, 81% say that they would like to get married someday. Even among those previously married but now divorced, about half say they want to get married again.

  6. The American Dream beats on in the heart of Americans today. Some 70% of U.S. adults say that if one works hard and plays by the rules, one can achieve the American Dream in their lifetime. Six in 10 say that today's youth will have it better than their parents, including 66% of those aged 18 to 34. Plus, a slight majority of 52% of adults under age 30 think it is at least somewhat likely that they personally will be rich someday.

  7. Americans continue to care about others. Gallup updates from April show that while charitable activity is down amid the pandemic, 73% of Americans still say they have donated money to a religious or charitable cause within the past year, and 58% say they have volunteered their time for a charitable cause.

  8. And finally, when considering the coronavirus itself, there is positive news, or at least findings that I interpret optimistically. Americans appear to be quite willing to go along with public health recommendations when they are well-explained and justified. At one point in late March/early April, 75% of Americans said they were completely or mostly socially isolated -- and even now, our data show that 86% of Americans have worn a face mask when outside their home in the past week. Plus, I like to point out that the public is often wiser than its leaders. Given that state governors and public health officials are now pulling back on some of the initial reopening plans, it's useful to note that, collectively, Americans have over the past two months -- in poll after poll -- recommended that caution be taken in reopening too soon, even at economic cost.


Frank Newport, Ph.D., is a Gallup Senior Scientist. He is the author of Polling Matters: Why Leaders Must Listen to the Wisdom of the People and God Is Alive and Well. Twitter: @Frank_Newport

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030