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U.S. National Mood Shows Little Improvement in May

U.S. National Mood Shows Little Improvement in May

Story Highlights

  • No change in Americans' satisfaction with direction of country
  • Coronavirus remains top problem, although economic mentions tick up
  • Two-thirds continue to say economy is worsening

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the coronavirus continues to disrupt and distort ordinary life -- everything from the way people work, shop and attend school, to the way they vote and interact with loved ones -- Americans' satisfaction with the direction of the country remains subdued.

Just under a third of Americans, 32%, now say they are satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. That is similar to the 30% recorded in April but down from the recent high of 45% in February.

Line graph, February 2017-May 2020. Trend in percentage of Americans satisfied with way things are going in the U.S.

Republican Satisfaction Dips to Lowest Level Since 2017

Republicans' satisfaction with the country's direction has fallen each month since February, including a 12-percentage-point drop to 48% in May. Their satisfaction had peaked at 80% in February, after the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial early that month, but also averaged 58% throughout 2019 -- 10 points higher than it is today.

Democrats' satisfaction with the direction of the country was already about as low as it could go in February, and therefore, it didn't decline much in March or April. But it did increase five points in May to 15%, roughly tied with the highest reading since Trump took office at the start of 2017.

Satisfaction also increased in May among political independents, rising 10 points to 34%.

These improvements in satisfaction over the past month have offset the decline among Republicans, keeping overall satisfaction in the country steady near 30%.

Line graph, February 2017-May 2020. Satisfaction with way things are going in the U.S., by party ID.

COVID-19 Still Top Problem, but Down to 40%

The coronavirus remains the top-mentioned problem facing the country, although the 40% now citing it is down slightly from 45% in April. At 40%, the coronavirus continues to rank among the more dominant issues named as most important problem in the past two decades, with only terrorism (peaking at 46% in 2001) and the economy (58% in 2008) garnering more mentions for a single issue.

In recent months, mentions of the economy or jobs/unemployment as the top problem have inched up, rising from a combined 7% in March to 9% in April and 12% in May.

Mentions of government/poor leadership, which had been the leading perceived problem at the start of the year, declined to 20% in April as other issues became more pressing. They have increased slightly this month, to 24%.

Recent Trend in Most Important U.S. Problem
What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?
Mar 2-15, 2020 Apr 1-14, 2020 May 1-13, 2020
% % %
Coronavirus/Diseases 13 45 40
The government/Poor leadership 27 20 24
Economy in general 5 6 8
Unemployment/Jobs 2 3 4
Race relations/Racism 3 1 4
Healthcare 11 6 4
Unifying the country 6 3 3
Lack of respect for each other 2 2 3
Gap between rich and poor 1 2 2
Federal budget deficit/Federal debt 2 1 2
Ethics/Moral/Religious/Family decline 2 2 2
Judicial system/Courts/Laws * * 2
Lack of money * * 1
Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness 3 1 1
The media 1 2 1
Immigration 8 2 1
Elections/Election reform * * 1
Environment/Pollution/Climate change 5 2 1
Results shown for problems mentioned by at least 1% in May 2020. Items listed in order of May 2020 results.

Most of the month-to-month decline in mentions of the coronavirus as the nation's top problem has occurred among Republicans. While the coronavirus remains Republicans' No. 1 issue concern, and government ranks second, a higher percentage than in April now cite the economy or jobs as the chief problem.

Democrats are far more likely to name the coronavirus (45%) than the economy (7%) as the top problem, with 31% now citing government, up from 24% in April.

Recent Mentions of Key Issues as Nation's Most Important Problem, by Party ID
February March April May
% % % %
% Economy/Jobs
Republicans 8 5 13 17
Independents 7 6 9 12
Democrats 3 7 6 7
% Coronavirus/Other diseases
Republicans 1 10 47 35
Independents -- 13 42 38
Democrats * 17 46 45
% Government
Republicans 36 34 22 24
Independents 26 24 18 19
Democrats 40 26 24 31
* Less than 0.5%
Gallup, 2020

Economic Perspectives Remain Dour

Americans' views of the current economy have not changed since Gallup's last reading, in the second half of April, when three-quarters described economic conditions as "only fair" or "poor."

At the same time, their perceptions of the economy's direction have improved slightly, with 31% now saying the economy is getting better, up from 26% in late April and 22% at the start of that month. Still, two-thirds continue to believe the economy is getting worse.

Recent Trend on Americans' Economic Ratings
Economy today:
Economy today:
Only fair/Poor
Getting better
Getting worse
% % % %
2020 May 1-13 22 77 31 67
2020 Apr 14-28 23 76 26 71
2020 Apr 1-14 27 73 22 74
2020 Mar 2-13 54 46 47 47
2020 Feb 3-16 63 37 61 33

Bottom Line

Americans' perceptions about the nation's wellbeing are in a fairly negative holding pattern as COVID-19 retains an unwelcome grip on the U.S. economy and everyday life. Although the rate of infection has slowed nationally, thus "flattening the curve," COVID-19 remains a leading cause of death in the country, and a new spike in infection rates is a distinct risk as states reopen their economies.

Against this backdrop, Americans are far from celebrating. They are no more satisfied with the direction of the country than they were in April. They continue to define the economy in mainly negative terms and see the coronavirus as the dominant problem facing the country.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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