WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Overall, Americans are as likely to be positive (39%) about the current state of the country as they are to be negative (40%). However, the gap between whites' and nonwhites' views of where the country stands is wider than at any point in recent history, with nonwhites now almost twice as likely as whites to view the nation's situation positively.
These findings are from Gallup's annual Mood of the Nation poll, conducted Jan. 5-8, 2014, which asked Americans to rate the present standing of the U.S. using a zero-to-10 ladder scale, with 10 being the best possible situation for the country and zero being the worst. Scores from six to 10 are considered positive, and scores from zero to four are considered negative; five is neutral.
The question does not refer to the presidency, yet the elected official occupying the White House has dramatically affected the way particular demographic groups have viewed the country in recent years. From the tail end of President Bill Clinton's presidency in January 2001 through the start of the last full year of George W. Bush's presidency in January 2008, whites' and nonwhites' ratings of the nation's standing were generally similar, although whites tended to be slightly more positive than nonwhites. The greatest gap between the two groups' views was 12 points in 2005, just after Bush's re-election.
This changed after the 2008 presidential election, when differences between the two racial groups started to get larger. Between 2008 and 2010, the views of whites and nonwhites soured, likely reflecting the major economic challenges that erupted in late 2008. However, whites' views declined much more than nonwhites', resulting in a six-point gap in 2010 with nonwhites more positive than whites.
More than half of whites (53%) were positive about the country's current trajectory in January 2008 -- 10 months before the presidential election. After President Barack Obama's first year in office, that percentage fell to 35%. Four years later, that figure is roughly the same.
Conversely, nonwhites have been increasingly positive about the United States' standing. While their assessments of current conditions dipped with the rest of the country's in 2010, nonwhites' views have increased 16 percentage points since then.
Republicans Slightly More Positive Than Last Year
Republicans are more positive about the nation's present situation now (29%) than they were last year (21%). They continue, however, to be the least positive group, with their positivity hovering below that shown by independents (33%) and Democrats (54%).
Republicans' positive views about the nation's trajectory are dramatically worse than they were during the Bush presidency, when their ratings consistently dwarfed the optimism of independents and Democrats. Today, Republicans' numbers are even lower than the subdued positive reactions Democrats gave during the Bush era and have been consistently low throughout Obama's term.
For Many Americans, the Future Is Bright, but the Past Was Even Brighter
As they have since 2002, Americans view the nation's future -- and its past -- more favorably than its present. While nearly four in 10 view the current situation positively, exactly half (50%) view the future positively and 53% reflect positively on the past. Historically, this has not always been the case. From 1985 to 2002, Americans viewed the future more positively than the past.
Demographics by race and political identification followed similar trends in their views of the future as they did for the present time, but with higher levels of optimism. Americans of all demographics have historically viewed the future more positively than the present.
As the president prepares to make his fifth State of the Union speech Tuesday, he will have to address these many, diverging sentiments about the state of the nation within the electorate as a single audience.
Since Obama's election, whites' and nonwhites' views about the nation's trajectory have moved in opposite directions. For nonwhites, his election could have signaled an inclusion they had not felt before. Whereas for whites, who largely identify as Republicans, Obama's big-government views and policies such as the Affordable Care Act, could have played a major role in their pessimism about where the nation is and where it will go.
Though only a slight increase, the small uptick in Republicans' positive thoughts could serve as a small gift to Obama as he attempts to rise above the second-lowest yearly job approval rating he has received since entering office and could signal that the opposing party's low optimism has already bottomed out. Republicans remain the least positive about America's current prospects, but the extreme lows could be abating, as the end of Obama's second term is closer at hand.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 5-8, 2014, with a random sample of 1,018 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.