- Public satisfaction with several broad aspects of country averages 41%
- Satisfaction with longer list of specific policy or life areas averages 36%
- Mood similar to 2022 and unchanged from 2021 low point
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans’ assessment of the state of the nation remains in the pandemic-era slump seen since 2021, marked by subdued satisfaction with 30 different aspects of the country. These include the public’s reaction to several aspects of U.S. society generally, as well as to numerous specific issues facing the country.
These findings from Gallup’s Jan. 2-22 Mood of the Nation poll come as only 23% of Americans are broadly satisfied with the way things are going in the country, while the rest are dissatisfied, including nearly half “very dissatisfied.”
Most Are Content With Quality of Life but Not Nation’s Morals
The overall quality of life in the country (65%) and the opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard (61%) are the only two societal dimensions of eight measured in this year’s Mood of the Nation poll that a majority of Americans view positively.
Even these satisfaction ratings, however, are well below the record highs of 89% for the quality of life in 2001-2002 and 77% for opportunity in 2002.
Close to half of Americans today are satisfied with the influence of organized religion, while satisfaction drops to a third for the size and power of the federal government as well as the U.S. system of government and how it works.
Americans are least satisfied with the nation’s moral and ethical climate (20%), the way income and wealth are distributed (24%), and the size and influence of major corporations (27%).
Gallup has measured Americans’ satisfaction with various aspects of the country each January since 2001, except in 2009 and 2010, when the question was not asked.
The only significant change in the broad societal ratings over the past year is a six-percentage-point decline in satisfaction with the way income and wealth are distributed. This may reflect, at least in part, the prolonged period of high inflation since January 2022 that has created financial hardship for many.
Seven of the eight societal dimensions (all but income/wealth equality) have been measured annually since 2001. The average rating is 41% today, identical to the composite rating in 2022 and similar to the record-low 39% found in 2021.
Average satisfaction was significantly higher in January 2020, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it had ranged narrowly from 44% to 50% for the nine years prior to that. Satisfaction with these big-picture aspects of the country was even higher in the early 2000s, exceeding 60% in 2001 and 2002 before dropping into the 50s from 2003 to 2008.
Issue Area Ratings Highest for Military and Positions of Women, Gay and Lesbian People
The new survey also probed Americans’ satisfaction with 22 specific public policy and life areas. Public satisfaction with these ranges from a high of 64% for the nation’s military strength and preparedness to a low of 14% for the nation’s campaign finance laws.
The public is content with just four issue areas this year, based on majority-level satisfaction. In addition to the nation’s military strength, these are the position of women in the nation, the acceptance of gay and lesbian people, and the nation’s security from terrorism. All others, however, fall short, including 13 that earn lower than 40% satisfaction.
Over the past year, satisfaction improved by a statistically meaningful amount in just two areas -- security from terrorism (up eight points to 55%), and the Social Security and Medicare systems (+7), while it declined in five: the economy (down 8 points to 25%), the acceptance of gay and lesbian people (-7), the nation’s gun laws or policies (-7), the level of immigration (-6) and the nation’s efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness (-6).
Seventeen of this year's issue ratings have been measured annually since 2002 (when terrorism was added to the list). Average satisfaction on these is 36% in 2023. This matches last year's average, when satisfaction with various specific areas of policy and life in America had fallen to the lowest in Gallup’s 23-year trend.
Unlike average satisfaction with broad aspects of the country, which was routinely above 50% in the early 2000s before falling into the 40s and 30s, satisfaction with specific issues has rarely varied more than two points from the average 43% satisfaction rating for 2002-2021, before falling to 36% in 2022.
Partisans’ views on the state of the nation are similar in a few respects, while highly divergent in others.
The largest differences in macro-societal views are on the influence of organized religion -- with a majority of Republicans versus a third of Democrats satisfied -- and the size and power of the federal government, about which the majority of Democrats versus few Republicans are satisfied.
Republicans and Democrats share a mostly negative view of the size and influence of major corporations, with only about a quarter of each group (and the same proportion of independents) satisfied. Satisfaction is also universally scant with income and wealth distribution and the nation’s moral and ethical climate.
On the positive side, majorities of all three groups are satisfied with the opportunity to succeed through hard work and with the overall quality of life.
Partisan differences are starker with respect to specific policy areas, where the party gap is 20 points or more for half of the 22 issues measured.
The widest gap is seen on the nation’s gun laws, with 56% of Republicans versus 12% of Democrats satisfied. But the gulf is nearly as wide for the quality of the environment and the position of Black people and other racial minorities in the nation -- both of which receive higher satisfaction ratings from Republicans than Democrats.
Slight majorities of Republicans and Democrats are satisfied with the position of gay and lesbian people in the country, as well as with the quality of medical care. More than a third of Republicans (35%) and Democrats (39%) are satisfied with the availability of affordable healthcare, while they express much less satisfaction with the nation’s efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness.
This year’s partisan differences -- with Democrats more satisfied on some issues and Republicans more satisfied on others -- largely balance each other out, resulting in similar average satisfaction scores for both parties across all 22 issues. In other words, partisans may be satisfied with different things, but their overall reactions to the state of the nation are similar. Democrats’ average satisfaction with all 22 issues is 38% (the same as independents’) and Republicans’ is 36%.
The average societal ratings are also similar by party, with Democrats averaging 39% satisfaction across the eight areas, independents averaging 38% and Republicans 36%.
Americans have long desired more from government when it comes to addressing the nation’s problems, whether that be policies pertaining to energy, guns, the environment or education. Today’s average issue satisfaction rating is tied with 2022’s for the lowest Gallup has recorded in its measurements since 2001 but is not vastly different from the past.
On the other hand, Americans’ belief in some of the nation’s fundamental merits has been shaken since the emergence of the pandemic and the subsequent economic turmoil. Less than two-thirds are satisfied with the quality of life today or with the opportunity to get ahead through hard work, down from much higher levels as recently as January 2020. Satisfaction with the nation’s system of government and how it works has fallen even more dramatically, from 68% in 2001 to 33% today, although much of that decline occurred over the first decade. And satisfaction ratings with government power, corporate power and income inequality are all at or near their record lows.
People tuning in to hear President Joe Biden deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 7 may be hoping his vision for the country supports the return to prepandemic normalcy in the economy, in civic affairs and in their ability to feel content with their American life.
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