PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' views of national circumstances haven't deteriorated in the past month, but they also haven't improved. Just 17% of Americans whom Gallup interviewed Aug. 7-10 say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, the same as in July.
This is the sixth straight month the percentage of Americans "dissatisfied" with the country has registered at least 80%, including the record-high 85% recorded in May. Since the establishment of this Gallup trend in 1979, there has been only one other period of similarly prolonged public dissatisfaction. That was in 1992, when dissatisfaction was 80% or higher for four out of five months from March to July, before dropping back to 73% in late August and early September.
Economy the Most Important Problem
The economy remains the most common answer to Gallup's open-ended question asking Americans to name "the most important problem facing this country today." Thirty-eight percent name the economy in the new August poll, similar to the 34% to 41% citing it each month since February.
It appears that Americans' near-term concerns about fuel prices have ebbed slightly, as the percentage mentioning the issue fell from 23% in July to 15% today. This is most likely a direct reflection of the roughly 20-cent decline in average gas prices nationwide between the two polling periods. At the same time, Americans' underlying concerns about the nation's energy supply -- what respondents term the "energy crisis" -- rose slightly, from 6% to 9%.
At 19%, the percentage mentioning the Iraq war as the nation's top problem has not changed much since July. However, as a result of the decline in mentions of gas prices since July, Iraq now ranks No. 2 on the list of problems, replacing fuel prices, which fell to No. 3.
Today's order of perceived problems is quite different from that of January 2008, when Iraq ranked No.1, mentioned by 25%; the economy ranked No. 2, with 18%; and healthcare (13%) and immigration (11%) both surpassed fuel prices (6%). Despite recent political and media attention to the U.S. military challenges in Afghanistan, this conflict has yet to register on the list of most important problems with as much as 1% of Americans mentioning it.
Public opinion about the country is in a negative rut if there ever was one. The six-month run of 80% or higher dissatisfaction ratings follows 11 months of 70% or higher dissatisfaction, and consistently high readings of 60% or more stretching back to late 2005. The last time a majority of Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country was January 2004 -- four and a half years ago.
The reason for this rut has shifted over time, from a clear emphasis on the Iraq war between 2005 and 2007 to a clear emphasis on the economy today. High energy prices have only added fuel to the fire of public discontentment with the economy in 2008; but even as gas prices are receding from record highs, the economy remains the top perceived problem facing the country and, rolling into the election, dissatisfaction with the country abounds.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 7-10, 2008. 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.
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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