- Twenty-eight percent are satisfied with country's direction
- Down slightly from 31%-32% in first three months of 2015
- Satisfaction remarkably flat during Obama's presidency to date
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Twenty-eight percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, while 70% are dissatisfied. Satisfaction remains higher than it was for much of 2013 and 2014, but it is down from 31% in March and from 32% in January and February.
Satisfaction Remains Historically Low
At 28%, overall satisfaction with the direction of the country remains on the higher end of what Gallup has recorded since President Barack Obama took office at the start of 2009. However, that range, between 11% and 36%, is still on the low side of what Gallup has recorded since 1979. In the past 36 years, satisfaction twice peaked at or near 70% when the economy was particularly strong -- in 1986 and 1999 -- and twice at times of high national patriotism: at the start of the Gulf War in 1991 and in the first few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Satisfaction hit its low point of 7% in October 2008 as the global financial crisis unfolded and the U.S. stock market plummeted, but also reached low levels in 1979, 1992 and as recently as 2011 and 2013.
Satisfaction Remarkably Flat During Obama Presidency
The annual satisfaction ratings for recent two-term presidents provides one way to evaluate the general tenor of the times during which each president presided.
Already, Obama has served through the longest stretch of low satisfaction of any of the past four two-term presidents, with satisfaction averaging no better than 27% in any full year. While 2015 has started with a 31% average in the first four months, that average includes the recent dip to 28%, which is not as encouraging.
The first year of Ronald Reagan's and Bill Clinton's presidencies were marked by satisfaction levels similar to Obama's in 2009. But for each of these earlier presidents, satisfaction improved to 45% or better in their final years in office. The path of satisfaction was altogether different during George W. Bush's presidency, peaking in his first year, related to the surge following 9/11, and ratcheting down thereafter until it hit record lows in his final year.
Whether or not U.S. satisfaction improves in the coming 18 months may not greatly affect Obama's own presidential power or policies, but it could influence his party's chances of retaining the White House in the next election. Both presidents who presided over relatively good times in their final years in office -- Reagan and Clinton -- saw their party's subsequent nominee win the national popular vote for the presidency, including Al Gore in 2000, even though he lost in the Electoral College. Bush, on the other hand, saw his party's nominee lose handily.
Of course, outgoing presidents' approval ratings are another key indicator of their party's chance of holding the White House, meaning Obama's improved job score in recent weeks is a positive development for Democrats. However, as Gallup has noted previously, Obama receives significantly higher job approval ratings relative to U.S. satisfaction than his predecessors generally did. So far this year, as U.S. satisfaction has averaged 31%, Obama's job approval rating has averaged 46%. So unless satisfaction rises to a level closer to Obama's approval rating, as happened for Clinton in 2000, the value of Obama's job approval rating to the 2016 Democratic nominee may have to be discounted some.
Satisfaction Under 50% for All Party Groups
The slight drop in satisfaction this month is almost entirely attributable to declines among Republicans and Democrats. Among Republicans, satisfaction fell six points since March to 9%, and dropped eight points to 42% among Democrats. At the same time, satisfaction is unchanged among independents, at 28%, matching the figure among all Americans.
Though down slightly this month, Americans' satisfaction with the direction of the country is higher than the 2014 average as well as most individual readings throughout Obama's presidency. Still, satisfaction remains historically low -- well below its average level in 1988 and 2000 when the presidential candidate of the same party as the sitting president won the national popular vote. U.S. satisfaction is currently closer to the extremely low level that existed in 2008, a state of affairs that likely hindered the incumbent party's candidate in that year's election.
Both U.S. satisfaction and presidential job approval bear close watching as November 2016 draws near. But if satisfaction continues to lag approval by a sizable margin, the election outcome may indicate which measure is more critical for the president's party: the president's own image, or the public's sense of whether the country is going in the right or wrong direction as his party asks for another turn at the helm.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 9-12, 2015, with a random sample of 1,015 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. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
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.