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U.S. Satisfaction Stable at 30%

U.S. Satisfaction Stable at 30%

Satisfaction level is in gray zone relative to past presidential reelection years

PRINCETON, NJ -- Two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country and 30% are satisfied, identical to the satisfaction level measured in September. While still lower than Gallup's historical average of 37%, the 30% satisfied today is up from earlier this year and is significantly higher than the 13% in October 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency.

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In terms of how Americans' overall mood may affect Obama's chances for re-election, the 30% satisfied today is higher than the satisfaction level before the 1980 (19%) and 1992 (22%) elections when incumbents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush both lost. However, it is lower than in 1984 (48%), 1996 (39%), and 2004 (44%), the respective re-election years for Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush -- all two-term presidents. Thus, while satisfaction levels do relate to election outcomes for incumbents, today's 30% puts Obama in a gray zone where it is unclear whether satisfaction has reached the threshold necessary for voters to give him a second term.

Other polling indicators do not provide much more clarity regarding Obama's re-election chances. His job approval rating has recently been hovering around 50%, but he may need to be consistently at 50% or better for his re-election to be more assured. Similarly, the Gallup U.S. Economic Confidence Index is currently at -21. That's lower than the +3 Gallup recorded in October 2004 and +23 in October 1996, shortly before the incumbents in those elections won, but it is significantly higher than the -37 in August 1992, before George H.W. Bush's defeat.

Demographics Reflect the Political Nature of Satisfaction

Americans who identify with the sitting president's political party tend to be much more satisfied with the direction of the country than identifiers with the opposing party, and that continues to hold true today. About half of Democrats say they are satisfied, 53%, compared with 29% of independents and 7% of Republicans.

These differences are reflected in demographic differences in satisfaction, including the finding that 22% of whites compared with 51% of non-whites are satisfied. Also, 18- to 29-year-olds and lower-income Americans -- both groups who lean Democratic, politically -- tend to be more satisfied than older and higher-income adults.

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Bottom Line

More than twice as many Americans today are dissatisfied with the direction of the country than are satisfied, which by itself indicates an unhealthy atmosphere for a president seeking re-election. However, on a relative basis, the 30% satisfied is not much lower than the average 37% satisfied in Gallup trends dating to 1979.

Furthermore, satisfaction has improved quite a bit since Obama won election amidst an unfolding Wall Street financial crisis four years ago, and is higher than in years when recent incumbents lost their bids for a second term. It has yet to rise, however, to levels matching those of prior incumbents who won re-election, possibly explaining why Obama is currently trailing Romney in Gallup Daily tracking among likely voters.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 15-16, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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 questions results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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