PRINCETON, NJ -- Though the significant majority of Americans say they are satisfied with the way things are going in their personal lives -- as has been the case for decades -- there has been a notable decline in reported satisfaction over the past 12 months to 80%, the lowest Gallup has measured since 1992.
This is based on Gallup's annual Lifestyle Poll, conducted Dec. 4-7 this year. Personal life satisfaction ratings have been highly stable over the years. For example, over the past four years these have been either 84% or 85%. So while a drop of four percentage points is not large in an absolute sense, it is notable in light of the overall stability of this trend line.
Gallup first asked about personal satisfaction in this format in 1979, and has found ratings below 80% in only a limited number of polls, usually at times (like the present) when the economy was in poor shape, such as the late 1970s, the early 1980s, and in 1991-1992. Yet, a poor economy drags down Americans' personal life satisfaction only to a small degree because these ratings have never been below the 73% measured in July 1979.
The current decline comes in a year in which Gallup has found record-low ratings of satisfaction with the way things are going in the country and of economic conditions, as well as record or near-record lows in trust in government, and approval of Congress and the president.
Perhaps the more significant change in Americans' personal satisfaction comes in the results of the follow-up question -- first asked in the 2001 Lifestyle survey -- that asks Americans to say to what degree they are satisfied or dissatisfied. This year, just 47% of Americans say they are "very satisfied" with the way things are going in their personal lives, the first sub-50% measure over the past eight years. The current figure also represents a sharp drop from the 59% reporting a high degree of personal satisfaction at this time last year.
Each major demographic or attitudinal subgroup shows a decline in the percentage who report being very satisfied this year compared to last. Higher-income respondents are among those showing the largest declines. Currently, 56% of Americans whose annual household incomes are $75,000 or greater say they are very satisfied with their personal lives, down from 75% last year. Even so, higher-income Americans still report much greater satisfaction than lower-income Americans.
Interestingly, both Republicans' and Democrats' satisfaction has declined sharply compared to 2007, while there has been virtually no change in independents' reported satisfaction. Republicans remain the most satisfied of the three party groups, to some degree reflecting their typically higher average incomes.
Republicans and higher-income Americans are two of the few groups among which more than 50% are very satisfied with their personal lives. Other groups exceeding 50% include college graduates (53%), those who are married (52%), and self-identified conservatives (51%).
The groups reporting the lowest degree of personal life satisfaction are Democrats (37% very satisfied) and those residing in households of less than $30,000 annual income (38%).
The vast majority of Americans report that they are satisfied with their personal lives, including close to half who are very satisfied. While high satisfaction levels are the norm, these can fall off, particularly when economic conditions in the country are not good, as has been the case this year. Thus, it is understandable that Americans are not quite as personally satisfied as they have been in the past, in the midst of one of the worst economies in decades; however, it is notable that such a poor economy can affect personal satisfaction only so much.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 4-7, 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.