More than one third of likely voters believe America’s best days are
over, according to a new poll for The Hill. A clear majority also feel
the United States is being overtaken by other nations in important ways.
The pessimism on their part may be a reflection of the continuing effects of the Great Recession and the historically high rate of unemployment in particular. The current crisis over the debt ceiling also might be fueling negative feelings.
Given all those features of the political and economic landscape, however, the number of voters who remain optimistic is almost as striking as those who take a gloomier view.
Almost half of likely voters said they believe America’s best days are still ahead. Forty-five percent of voters are optimistic about America’s future, the poll found, though the question split white voters and middle-aged voters down the middle, with approximately 4 in 10 in each category expressing confidence in the country’s future and 4 in 10 expressing doubts.
Among the most confident were Democrats (58 percent), blacks (57 percent) and 18-to-30-year-olds (53 percent). Forty-six percent of self-identified independent voters said they believe the country’s best days are over, a higher proportion than among either Democrats or Republicans.
A full 6 in 10 of all likely voters agreed that other countries are gaining on the United States — a feeling broadly consistent across income levels, though Republicans (70 percent) and independents (63 percent) were more likely to affirm it than Democrats (52 percent).
On both questions, 18-to-39-year-olds were the most likely of three age brackets to be optimistic about the country’s future: Fifty-three percent said the country’s best days are still ahead, and though more than half agree that other countries are gaining ground, younger people were less likely to say so than their older peers.
When asked about the state of their finances since President Obama took office, almost half of likely voters — 48 percent — said theirs had worsened.
Such a high figure will make for unwelcome reading in the White House, given the widespread assumption that voters’ feelings about their economic well-being — and, specifically, their sense of whether they are on an upward or downward trajectory — will track very closely with the choice they make at the ballot box in next year’s presidential election.
Blacks and whites differed markedly on economic questions, with 78 percent of blacks saying their situations had either stayed the same or improved since Obama took office. Among whites, an overwhelming proportion (87 percent) said their situations had stayed the same or gotten worse.
Overall, 37 percent of likely voters said they expect their economic position to remain the same, while 33 percent expect it to get worse, though women, at 40 percent, were slightly more likely to foresee stability than men, at 34 percent.
In keeping with the glum national mood, 55 percent of voters said federal-level political decisions have either “somewhat” or “very” negative effects on their lives.
Blacks were a major exception, with 64 percent saying that the effect of those decisions was somewhat or very positive — perhaps a reflection of the federal government’s role in helping to lessen racial discrimination in recent decades.
Among political affiliations, Democrats expressed more positivity as a whole, while 65 percent of those who identified with the GOP and 60 percent of independents said federal decisions were negative in their personal effect.
The Hill Poll was conducted on July 28 by Pulse Opinion Research. It is based on the responses of 1,000 likely voters and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.