PRINCETON, NJ -- Throughout 2011, an average of 17% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is the second-lowest annual average in the more than 30-year history of the question, after the 15% from 2008. Satisfaction has averaged as high as 60% in 1986, 1998, and 2000.
The 2011 average includes 15% satisfaction from a Dec. 15-18 Gallup poll, which is a slight improvement from readings of 11% as recently as September. During the year, satisfaction ranged from lows of 11% in August and September to a high of 26% in May, recorded after the United States military found and killed Osama bin Laden.
The 11% readings from August and September are just four percentage points above the all-time low single-poll reading of 7% from Oct. 10-12, 2008, recorded after the financial crisis, passage of the TARP legislation, and a sharp downturn in stock values.
Economic Concerns Continue to Dominate as Most Important Problem
Americans' widespread dissatisfaction with national conditions may largely result from the country's economic woes. Nearly two-thirds of Americans, 64%, currently mention some economic issue as the most important problem facing the country, and the top two specific issues -- the economy in general and unemployment -- are economic in nature. Dissatisfaction with government and elected officials, the federal budget deficit, and moral and ethical decline round out the top five.
For much of 2011, Americans cited the economy in general, unemployment, dissatisfaction with government, and the deficit as the top problems facing the country. The latest update does show a few notable changes, however.
First, the percentages mentioning the economy in general and unemployment are down from November, including an 11-point drop in mentions of unemployment.
Related to this, the 64% of Americans mentioning any economic issue is the lowest Gallup has measured in over a year, since July 2010, though it remains well above the average of 45% since 2001.
Also, the 16% of Americans who say "the government" or "politicians" is the most important problem is the highest Gallup has measured since January 1996. At that time, Congress was involved in a partisan standoff over the budget similar to what is happening now over the payroll tax and what happened several times earlier this year in regard to the federal debt ceiling and budget deficit. Gallup has found Americans' level of trust in government at historic lows in 2011.
Americans continue to express low levels of satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States, rivaling the lowest Gallup has measured in the past 30+ years. That dissatisfaction probably reflects Americans' economic anguish, and the prospects for considerable improvement in satisfaction are not great unless the economy improves significantly.
This month, Americans have been slightly less negative about the economy, as evidenced by Gallup's Economic Confidence Index scores and the drop in the percentage mentioning economic issues as the most important problem facing the country. Satisfaction levels are up slightly from prior months. Still, all of these measures remain low from a historical perspective and reinforce the point that Americans remain largely unhappy with the state of the country.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 15-18, 2011, with a random sample of 1,019 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.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±X 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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.