skip to main content
U.S. Satisfaction Levels Remain Depressed

U.S. Satisfaction Levels Remain Depressed

PRINCETON, NJ -- Twenty-three percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, with 75% dissatisfied. That is the same as the average for 2012 to date, and indicates that last month's slightly higher 28% satisfaction rating was not the beginning of sustained improvement.

Recent Trend: In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?

The current level of satisfaction could put President Barack Obama's re-election in jeopardy. Satisfaction is now similar to what it was in early August 1992 (17%), prior to George H.W. Bush's re-election defeat. It is significantly lower than what it was in mid-August 1996 (38%) and mid-August 2004 (44%), years in which incumbents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively, were re-elected.

Gallup does not have August estimates of satisfaction in earlier incumbent re-election years. However, during 1984, satisfaction was generally near 50% when Ronald Reagan was re-elected. Gallup did not ask satisfaction at all in 1980 -- the year in which Jimmy Carter was defeated -- but it is probably safe to assume it was low, given a reading of 19% in November 1979 and 17% in January 1981.

Democrats (35%) are currently much more likely to be satisfied than Republicans (12%), but Democrats are hardly upbeat about the state of the nation. Independents' satisfaction level falls in between, but is closer to that of Republicans.

Satisfied With Way Things Are Going in the United States, by Political Party, August 2012

Economy, Unemployment Continue to Rank as Most Important Problems

Americans continue to most often mention the economy in general as the most important problem facing the country today, with 31% doing so, followed by unemployment or jobs at 23%. Fifteen percent mention dissatisfaction with government, while 8% say healthcare and 7% the federal budget deficit. The rank order of these issues has been fairly consistent in recent months.

Recent trend: What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?

From a longer-term perspective, either the economy or unemployment has ranked as the top problem each month since February 2008.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to mention the economy in general as the most important problem facing the country, 38% to 27%. Democrats are about as likely to mention unemployment (28%) as the economy in general.

Beyond the top two issues, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to mention dissatisfaction with government, while Republicans are more likely to mention the federal budget deficit and moral and ethical decline.

Most Important Problem, by Political Party, August 2012


Americans remain largely dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States, and that probably results from their ongoing concerns about the economy and unemployment.

Low satisfaction levels are certainly a threat to President Obama's re-election chances. The current percentage satisfied is similar to what it was when George H.W. Bush was defeated for re-election in 1992. Although satisfaction is low, Americans are a bit more satisfied now than they were last year (average of 17%) and in 2008 (15%), the year Obama was elected.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,012 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030