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Americans' Satisfaction With U.S. Drops Sharply

Americans' Satisfaction With U.S. Drops Sharply

by Art Swift
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Satisfaction now at 17%, down from 29% in June
  • Lowest measure of satisfaction since October 2013
  • Race relations surges to top of "most important problem" list

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. dropped 12 percentage points in the past month, amid high-profile police killings of black men and mass shootings of police. Currently, 17% of Americans are satisfied with the state of affairs in the U.S.

Satisfaction With U.S., Trend Since 2013

Satisfaction is the lowest it has been nationwide since October 2013, when Republican members in Congress led a federal government shutdown. For the past two years, satisfaction has been in the 20s and 30s, with low points of 20% in December 2015 and November 2014.

This 12-point drop in one month is tied for the largest decrease in satisfaction since Gallup started asking satisfaction monthly in 2001. The previous largest decrease during this period was also 12 points in October 2008, as the financial crisis was taking hold.

These data are from Gallup's latest monthly reading of Americans' satisfaction, taken July 13-17. Between the June reading and now, the U.S. has been rocked by deadly shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the targeted killing of police at a protest in Dallas. Also since the last survey, a gunman killed 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. World news has not offered much solace, with a terrorist attack across the Atlantic in Nice, France, involving a truck ramming into a crowd on Bastille Day in mid-July, killing 84.

Race Relations Named as Most Important Problem in U.S.

The same July poll finds a surge in concern about race relations and racism, after the several recent incidents of violence between police and black men. In the July 13-17 update, 18% of Americans say race relations or racism is the most important problem facing the nation, a jump of 13 points in the past month.

Since 2000, mentions of race have only once previously been in double digits -- in December 2014, when 13% mentioned race as the top problem facing the nation. Race was infrequently mentioned as the top problem facing the nation from 1970 through 2000, with the exception of May 1992, a week after the Rodney King verdicts in Los Angeles, when 15% mentioned race as the top problem.

There was little change in Americans' mention of terrorism this month, despite the Orlando shootings.

Recent Trend, Most Important Problem
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?
  April 2016 May 2016 June 2016 July 2016
  % % % %
Race relations/Racism 7 5 5 18
Dissatisfaction with government 13 13 13 16
Economy in general 17 18 18 12
Unemployment/Jobs 9 9 8 7
Crime/Violence 2 2 3 6
Ethics/Moral decline 5 3 5 6
Immigration/Illegal aliens 8 7 7 6
National security 5 4 5 6
Terrorism 6 4 4 5
Guns/Gun control 1 1 1 5
Elections/Election reform 4 5 6 5

Dissatisfaction with government ranks second among the most important problems this month, and at 16% generally remains in the range it has been in during recent months. Mentions of the "economy in general," No. 1 last month, fell to third at 12%. Americans this month are more likely to mention crime/violence (6%) and guns/gun control (5%) than they have been in previous months, most likely a reaction to the occurrence of violence and shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Florida.

Democrats' Satisfaction Drops Precipitously

The decline in Americans' satisfaction this month includes a particularly sharp drop among Democrats, whose satisfaction levels -- after registering 51% last month -- dropped 22 points to 29% in July. This was a marked change from the 11-point jump in satisfaction Democrats expressed from May to June.

Satisfaction With U.S. by Party ID, Trend Since 2007

Republicans, on the other hand, have professed extremely low satisfaction with life in the U.S. throughout the Obama administration, ranging from 3% to 19% during Barack Obama's term in office. Independents' satisfaction dropped in the last month from 24% to 16%.

Bottom Line

Racial strife, epitomized in the recent police shootings and shootings of police, and highlighted in ongoing protests, appears to have ignited new concerns about the state of the U.S. The American public now says race relations/racism is the nation's single most important problem, and overall satisfaction with the way things are going in the country has dropped significantly.

Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. has generally been low in the past decade, even before the July downturn. In an era increasingly defined by wars in the Middle East, a Great Recession, ongoing economic uncertainty and heightened and polarized political rhetoric, it is not surprising that more than half of Americans have said they are not satisfied with the way things are going in the country for more than a decade.

As the summer continues, with political conventions and the possibility of ongoing racial unrest, satisfaction with the U.S. may remain low as uncertainty persists at least until the presidential election in November.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,023 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 60% cellphone respondents and 40% 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 the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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