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Political Splits Widen on Satisfaction With Life in U.S.

Political Splits Widen on Satisfaction With Life in U.S.

by Jim Norman

Story Highlights

  • Republicans' satisfaction on four key measures has grown in past year
  • Democrats' satisfaction with moral and ethical climate drops 14 points

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' satisfaction with four fundamental measures of the nation's status -- the overall quality of life, morality, opportunity and wealth distribution -- has been fairly steady as the country transitioned from a Democratic administration to a Republican one in the past year. But beneath the surface, satisfaction among Republicans has increased on all four measures, while Democrats have grown significantly more dissatisfied with three.

Major Shifts in Satisfaction Among Democrats, Republicans
Percentage very or somewhat satisfied with each of the following "aspects of life in America today"
2017 2018 Change, 2017-2018
% % pct. pts.
Overall quality of life
All adults 80 80 0
Democrats 85 76 -9
Republicans 74 90 +16
Opportunity to get ahead by working hard
All adults 66 63 -3
Democrats 60 50 -10
Republicans 72 86 +14
Moral and ethical climate
All adults 31 28 -3
Democrats 37 23 -14
Republicans 22 31 +9
Way income, wealth are distributed in the U.S.
All adults 35 32 -3
Democrats 23 17 -6
Republicans 45 56 +11
Percentages of Democrats and Republicans include independent leaners

None of the four measures has changed by more than three percentage points among the general public since January 2017, at the tail end of Barack Obama's presidency.

  • Eighty percent of the public is satisfied with the overall quality of life, unchanged from 2017.
  • Sixty-six percent were satisfied a year ago with the opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard; 63% are satisfied now.
  • Thirty-one percent were satisfied with the moral and ethical climate last year; 28% are now.
  • Thirty-five percent were satisfied in 2017 with the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S.; 32% are now.

The apparent stability of American opinion, however, hides that views on each item changed by as many as 16 points among either Democrats or Republicans (with leaners included), including by double digits among both party groups on satisfaction with the opportunity to get ahead.


Vast Majority Still Satisfied With Quality of Life in U.S.

Gallup first measured Americans' satisfaction with three of the four aspects of U.S. life in 2001 (the question on distribution of wealth and income was added in 2014), and quality of life has always scored highest with the public. Overall satisfaction on this aspect was at its highest in the first two years, at 89%, and hit a low point of 73% in 2013. (None of the questions were asked in 2009 or 2010.)

Satisfaction With Overall Quality of Life

Republicans were generally more satisfied than Democrats during the 2001-2008 presidency of Republican George W. Bush, and in 2011 and 2012 with Obama in the White House. But their satisfaction dipped to 67% by 2013, compared with 77% among Democrats, and Democrats stayed more positive throughout the rest of Obama's second term.

Satisfaction With Opportunity to Get Ahead Rebounds Among Republicans

Roughly eight in 10 or more Republicans were satisfied in the 2001-2008 period with the opportunity to get ahead by working hard, but in 2011, the first year Gallup measured satisfaction after the financial crash of 2008 and Obama's subsequent election, a bare majority of 55% said they were satisfied. That number has grown in each of the past four years, including a 24-point hike from 62% in 2016 to 86% now. Meanwhile, satisfaction among Democrats has sunk to 50% this year, one point below the previous low in 2006.

Satisfaction With Opportunity to Get Ahead by Working Hard

Satisfaction With Moral, Ethical Climate Matches 2012 Low of 28%

Satisfaction with the nation's moral and ethical climate, which has never reached the 50% level, dropped below 30% this year for the second time, matching the 2012 low of 28%. Only 23% of Democrats are satisfied, significantly below their previous low of 31% in 2006. Republicans were less likely than Democrats to express satisfaction throughout the Obama presidency, reaching a low of 19% in 2013 and 2015. Now the percentage of Republicans saying they are satisfied has risen to 31%, the first time it has been above 30% since 2008.

Satisfaction With Moral, Ethical Climate in U.S.

Majority of Republicans Now Satisfied With Way Income, Wealth Are Distributed

Since Gallup first asked Americans in 2014 about their satisfaction with the way wealth and income are distributed in the U.S., the percentage expressing satisfaction has never risen above 35%, reached in 2017. This year, Democratic satisfaction reached a new low of 17%, while Republican satisfaction climbed above 50% for the first time, to 56%.

Satisfaction With Distribution of Income, Wealth

Bottom Line

On one overarching aspect of life in the United States today -- the overall quality of life -- vast majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express satisfaction (although Republicans are currently more likely than Democrats to feel that way).

On another measure of the health of the nation, the moral and ethical climate, Republicans and Democrats alike are dissatisfied, and almost four in 10 Americans (39%) are very dissatisfied.

But on two other key aspects of life in the U.S. -- the distribution of the nation's wealth and the opportunity to get ahead through merit -- the gap that has grown between Republicans and Democrats causes them now to view the issues from fundamentally different perspectives. Democrats are split on whether the U.S. truly offers the opportunity to get ahead through hard work, while the large majority of Republicans think it does. In addition, a majority of Republicans are now satisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S., but fewer than one in five Democrats feel that way.

These drastically different viewpoints on two key measures illustrate yet again the depth and breadth of the challenges facing the two political parties and the nation's governing bodies.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 2-7, 2018, with a random sample of 1,024 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. For results based on each total sample of Democrats and Republicans, the margin of sampling error is ±6 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 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Poll works.

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