PRINCETON, NJ -- Twenty percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, a slight decline from recent months, when between 24% and 26% were satisfied. Satisfaction has reached as high as 36% during President Obama's first term, before falling back to 11% last August and September.
Compared with May, satisfaction ratings are down nine percentage points among Democrats (from 43% to 34%) and three points among independents (20% to 17%), while they are up three points among Republicans (9% to 12%). Democrats remain much more satisfied than either independents or Republicans.
Low satisfaction ratings are an ominous sign for a president seeking re-election. Today's 20% satisfaction among all Americans is similar to the final ratings prior to the 1980 and 1992 elections, when Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were defeated for re-election. In November 1979 (Gallup did not ask about satisfaction in 1980), 19% of Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country, and in August-September 1992, 22% were.
In contrast, Ronald Reagan (48% in 1984), Bill Clinton (39% in 1996), and George W. Bush (44% in 2004) were re-elected at times when Americans were much more satisfied with national conditions.
One factor that may mitigate the current low level of satisfaction is that more Americans are satisfied now than just before Obama took office in January 2009, 13%. Satisfaction also improved during Clinton's and Reagan's first terms, while declining in both Bush presidents' first terms. For the younger Bush, the decline was from a very high 56% in January 2001 to a level still above the historical average 39% satisfaction rating.
Economic Concerns Remain Paramount
The state of the economy is undoubtedly a factor in Americans' generally sour mood. Sixty-eight percent of Americans mention some aspect of the economy when asked about the most important problem facing the country today, with the economy in general (31%) and unemployment (25%) most often mentioned as specific concerns.
Americans are a bit less likely now than just before Obama took office (79%) to mention any economic issue as the most important problem facing the country. Since that time, there has been a significant drop in the percentage mentioning the economy in general as the most important problem (from 57%), but an increase in the percentage mentioning unemployment (from 11%).
The economy and unemployment have ranked first and second on the most important problem list each month since December 2009.
After those two issues, Americans' next-biggest concerns are dissatisfaction with government, mentioned by 12%, and the federal budget deficit, mentioned by 11%.
Americans' perceptions of the most important problem are similar to what Gallup found in May as well as in prior months.
Americans' preoccupation with the economy and broader dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the United States are not working in President Obama's favor as voters prepare to decide whether he deserves a second term. At the same time, Americans are a bit less concerned about economic issues, and a bit more satisfied with the way things are going, than they were when he took office in the midst of arguably the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression. Whether voters emphasize the current state of affairs, or how things have changed since Obama took office, may ultimately determine his re-election fate.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 7-10, 2012, with a random sample of 1,004 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.
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