PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States has fallen back to 11%, the lowest level since December 2008 and just four percentage points above the all-time low recorded in October 2008.
The Aug. 11-14 Gallup poll finds satisfaction down five points from July (16%) and nine points since June (20%). The dip is likely a response to the recent negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling and continued concern about the national economy amid a volatile stock market. The recent downing of a U.S. military helicopter in Afghanistan resulting in the deaths of 30 U.S. servicemen could also be contributing to Americans' glum mood.
Gallup began measuring Americans' satisfaction with national conditions in 1979. Since then, satisfaction has been lower than the current 11% in only a few measurements in the final months of 2008. The all-time low of 7% came in an Oct. 10-12, 2008, poll, conducted shortly after stock values plummeted following Congress' passage of the TARP legislation in response to the September 2008 financial crisis.
The current figures represent the continuation of a long slump in national satisfaction, which has been below 30% since September 2009, below 40% since August 2005, and below 50% since January 2004. The historical average satisfaction rating since 1979 is 40%. The all-time high is 71% in February 1999.
Democrats are somewhat more likely to say they are satisfied (19%) with conditions in the United States today than are Republicans (9%) and independents (8%).
Economic Concerns Paramount in Americans' Minds
In all, 76% of Americans mention some economic issue as the most important problem facing the country, the highest percentage since April 2009.
The most commonly mentioned specific problems are all economic in nature, including the economy in general (31%), unemployment or jobs (29%), and the federal budget deficit and federal debt (17%). The top non-economic problem is dissatisfaction with government and political leaders, mentioned by 14% of Americans.
Either the economy in general terms or unemployment has ranked as the No. 1 "most important problem" every month since February 2008, and the two have been either first or second each month since December 2009. Prior to that, from August to November 2009, healthcare ranked second to the economy, with unemployment third.
The recent debt ceiling negotiations have clearly had an impact on Americans' perceptions of the top problems facing the country, as the percentages mentioning the deficit and dissatisfaction with government are the highest since a January 1996 Gallup poll. At that time, during the 1995-1996 budget standoff between President Clinton and the Republican-led Congress, 28% of Americans mentioned the deficit as the most important problem and 17% mentioned dissatisfaction with government.
Americans are unhappy with the way things are going in the United States, with recent events in Washington and on Wall Street compounding the public's economic angst. This has taken a toll on Americans' ratings of political leaders, with congressional approval at an all-time low and President Obama registering the lowest approval ratings of his term.
Low national satisfaction ratings make incumbent politicians vulnerable to defeat, and Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were defeated for re-election at times when Americans were largely dissatisfied with the state of the nation. Satisfaction ratings tend to be low when the economy is struggling, so economic progress over the next 15 months will be a crucial factor in determining whether Obama is elected to a second term.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 11-14, 2011, with a random sample of 1,008 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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.
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