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U.S. Satisfaction on Pace to Be Lowest in Midterm Election Year

U.S. Satisfaction on Pace to Be Lowest in Midterm Election Year

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.

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The latest results are based on an Oct. 7-10, 2010, Gallup poll. Gallup will measure satisfaction once more before the midterm in its final pre-election poll the weekend before the election, but the prospects for change seem slim. Satisfaction has registered in a narrow range from 19% to 21% since July, after descending from a 2010 high of 27% in April.

A comparison of Gallup satisfaction ratings with the outcome of midterm elections suggests Americans tend to punish the president's party when they are highly dissatisfied with the state of the nation at the time of a midterm election. In the four recent midterm elections in which satisfaction has been below 40%, the president's party has lost an average of 30 seats in the U.S. House. This includes losses of 30 seats in 2006 and 53 in 1994 when one party controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency. The 1990 election was an exception to the general pattern, likely due to President George H.W. Bush's popularity at that time.

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That pattern of steep Congressional losses for the president's party when Americans are dissatisfied appears likely to occur in 2010 as well. Gallup's latest estimates on 2010 voting preferences show voters strongly favoring Republican candidates.

Indeed, among registered voters dissatisfied with the state of the nation, 58% currently prefer the Republican candidate for Congress and 33% the Democratic candidate.

The preference for Republican candidates among those who are dissatisfied is due in part to the fact that Republicans are much less likely to be satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. (5%) than are Democrats (34%). Currently, 19% of independents are satisfied. Not surprisingly, independents are also showing a strong preference for voting Republican this year.

Bottom Line

On Election Day, Americans' satisfaction with the state of the nation likely will be the lowest Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election. While low for a midterm election year, and low from a broader historical perspective, it would not be the lowest Gallup has ever measured. The all-time low rating of satisfaction was 7% in October 2008. In the presidential election that occurred shortly after that historical low point, Americans elected Barack Obama to the presidency and expanded the majority Democrats won in Congress during the 2006 elections. Now, with satisfaction still lagging two years later, Obama and the Democrats face the possibility of losing much of the congressional gains the party made the last two election cycles.

Learn more about Gallup's likely voter models for the 2010 midterm congressional elections.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 7-10, 2010, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. 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, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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