PRINCETON, NJ -- Twenty-six percent of Americans are now satisfied with the way things are going in the country, up from 22% in February and 18% in January. Satisfaction has not been this high since last May when it previously hit 26% -- buoyed by the death of Osama bin Laden -- and before that, April 2010 when it was 27%.
Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the country has improved slightly almost every month since last August and September when it was at a near-record low of 11%. This marks the longest period of sustained improvement in this measure since the first few months of the Obama administration in 2009. The latest results are based on a March 8-11 Gallup poll, with most of that interviewing conducted after Friday's well-received U.S. jobs report showing 227,000 new jobs were created in February, beating expectations at the same time that the unemployment rate held steady at 8.3%.
At 26%, Americans' satisfaction with the direction of the country is now comparable with where it stood in late 2007, before the Wall Street financial crisis of 2008. It exceeds the all-time low 7% recorded in October 2008, just after Congress passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program legislation to bail out failing financial institutions. However, it still falls well short of the levels seen from 2000 through 2007 and at points in 2009.
The recent increase in Americans' satisfaction with the country mirrors improvement in public confidence in the economy, with the Gallup Economic Confidence Index rising from -25 in late February and early March to -18 last week. Likewise, President Barack Obama's overall job approval rating has moved into the high 40s in recent Gallup Daily tracking.
Economy Steady but Gas Prices Rise as "Most Important Problem"
Despite increases in U.S. satisfaction and economic confidence, Americans' responses to Gallup's "most important problem" question held fairly steady this month. About 3 in 10 Americans (31%) say the economy is the biggest problem facing the country, 26% cite unemployment or jobs, and 9% mention the federal budget deficit or debt -- close to February's levels.
The only notable change, but an important one, is a significant increase in those mentioning gas or fuel prices, rising to 7% in March from 1% in February. This corresponds with a 35-cent increase in average pump prices over the same period to $3.83. However, mentions of gas prices as the nation's top problem remain well below the 25% recorded in 2008 when the price per gallon first topped $4.
More broadly, economic issues continue to dominate Americans' view of the biggest problem facing the country, with a "net" 70% mentioning at least one purely economic issue (such as the economy, jobs, inflation, taxes, or the deficit), contrasted with 46% naming at least one non-economic issue (such as healthcare, education, crime, or immigration).
Economic issues have exceeded non-economic issues on this measure for most of the past four years. By contrast, from January through March 2008, non-economic issues (led mainly by the Iraq war, but at times also by healthcare) prevailed.
Americans' satisfaction with how things are going in the country rose in March for the fifth straight month, and now ties the highest levels seen in the past two years. Nevertheless, the 26% currently satisfied still trails the normal level of satisfaction seen prior to the 2008 economic downturn.
The political significance of this is clear: If the momentum of recent months continues to the point that satisfaction approaches the 40% levels seen when George W. Bush and Bill Clinton won second terms in 2004 and 1996, respectively, President Obama's re-election would seem assured. Should it retreat or even remain at today's level -- similar to where it was in 1992 when George H.W. Bush was defeated -- this would spell trouble for Obama's re-election and perhaps all incumbents facing voters in November.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 8-11, 2012, with a random sample of 1,024 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 2011 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 http://www.gallup.com/.