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Satisfaction With Direction of U.S. Continues to Languish

Satisfaction With Direction of U.S. Continues to Languish

Story Highlights

  • In 2014, 23% of Americans satisfied with way things going in U.S.
  • This year's average is similar to that in recent years
  • Satisfaction remains well below historical average 38%

PRINCETON, N.J -- In 2014, an average of 23% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the U.S., similar to their views in recent years but on the lower end of what Gallup has measured since 1979.

Americans' Satisfaction With the Way Things Are Going in the U.S.,\nAnnual Gallup Averages

These results are based on aggregated data from 13 different Gallup polls conducted in 2014 -- one per month with an additional conducted in late October and early November. This includes the reading from December, which is also 23%.

Although Americans are relatively dissatisfied with the way things are going, the 2014 average is substantially better than the all-time low of 15% in 2008, a year marked by a recessionary economy and the financial crisis.

Still, the 2014 average is well below Gallup's historical average satisfaction rating of 38%. The all-time highs were 60% readings in 1986, 1998, and 2000, which all came at times of sustained economic growth.

Democrats Much More Satisfied Than Republicans

Thirty-eight percent of Democrats, compared with 10% of Republicans and 21% of independents, said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the U.S. throughout 2014. Those party averages are similar to what they have been since 2009, when President Barack Obama took office. They are also consistent with the historical pattern by which supporters of the president's party are more likely to be pleased with the direction of the country than non-supporters.

Satisfaction with way things going in the U.S., by political party

In 1992, the last year of George H.W. Bush's presidency and a year of generally low satisfaction overall, Republicans were significantly more satisfied than Democrats. That changed in 1993, when Bill Clinton took office and Democrats began reporting higher levels of satisfaction than Republicans. During Clinton's time in office, satisfaction increased among both Republicans and Democrats, but with Democrats consistently expressing satisfaction. When George W. Bush succeeded Clinton, Republicans once again became more satisfied, and they continued to be so even as satisfaction fell precipitously during his second term. During Obama's term, the party gap has held close to 30 percentage points, apart from 2011 when Democratic satisfaction dipped before recovering the next year.

Satisfaction Low but Improving as Economic Confidence Improves

As Gallup's 35-year trend on satisfaction makes clear, Americans are relatively more pleased with the state of the nation during good economic times -- like the mid-1980s, late 1990s and early 2000s. And they are much more dissatisfied with national conditions when the economy is poor -- as in the late 1970s and early 1980s, early 1990s and late 2000s.

As the economy has modestly improved in recent years, so has satisfaction, from 15% in 2008 to 23% this year -- a 53% increase. Over the same time period, Gallup's Economic Confidence Index has improved from -48 in 2008 to -14 so far in 2014, representing an 71% increase. Both satisfaction and economic confidence, however, remain below where they were in 2006 and 2007 before the recession.

Importantly, even as economic confidence has improved, it, too, remains low in absolute terms, as evidenced by the negative score on the index: -14. Gallup calculates the index such that negative scores indicate Americans are more negative than positive about the state of the economy, and positive scores indicate Americans are more upbeat than pessimistic. Therefore, satisfaction might not grow appreciably until Americans are more optimistic about the economy and evaluate it positively overall.

Even though Americans are more positive about the economy than they have been in recent years, it still ranks at or near the top of their list of the most important problems facing the country. In addition to the economy, dissatisfaction with the government has also consistently ranked among the most important problems facing the country in the last two years. As a result, Americans' frustration with Washington's ability to address the country's major issues could be holding satisfaction down, as it likely did in 2006 and 2007 when the economy relatively good. With Republicans taking control of the Senate and the House in January, the prospects for greater cooperation in Washington are not bright.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on aggregated data from telephone interviews conducted in 2014, with a random sample of 13,714 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 ±1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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