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Do most Americans think the country is turning to sh-t? Drumroll...and the ans is!

Yes they do and they'll be expressing themselves this Nov. BAM.

Inflation, Political Division Put U.S. in a Pessimistic Mood, Poll Finds

WSJ-NORC survey finds dim views of U.S. economy, government, global leadership

Rising grocery and other prices will be top of mind when voters head to the polls in November, a new survey shows.


By Janet Adamy, WSJ

June 6, 2022 5:30 am ET

Americans are deeply pessimistic about the U.S. economy and view the nation as sharply divided over its most important values, according to a new Wall Street Journal-NORC Poll.

The findings are from a Journal survey conducted with NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan research organization that measures social attitudes. The survey found Americans in a sour mood and registering some of the highest levels of economic dissatisfaction in years. The pessimism extended beyond the current economy to include doubts about the nation’s political system, its role as a global leader and its ability to help most people achieve the American dream.

Some 83% of respondents described the state of the economy as poor or not so good. More than one-third, or 35%, said they aren’t satisfied at all with their financial situation. That was the highest level of dissatisfaction since NORC began asking the question every few years starting in 1972 as part of the General Social Survey, though the poll’s 4-point margin of error means that new figures may not differ significantly from prior high and low points.

Just over one quarter of respondents, 27%, said they have a good chance of improving their standard of living—a 20-point drop from last year—while just under half of respondents, 46%, said they don’t.

The share of respondents who said their financial situation had gotten worse in the past few years was 38%. That marked the only time other than in the aftermath of the 2007-09 recession that more than three in 10 respondents said their pocketbooks were worse off, according to GSS data going back a half-century.

The survey results show that high inflation in particular is driving the dim economic outlook, said Jennifer Benz, vice president of public affairs and media research at NORC. Inflation is running at close to its fastest pace in four decades, at an 8.3% annual rate in April, one of several factors weighing on consumers. Households are digging into savings to support their spending, the Commerce Department has said, and the S&P 500 nearly closed in bear territory recently.

The labor market has been an economic bright spot, with the unemployment rate close to a half-century low, at 3.6% in May. In the survey, about two-thirds of respondents said it would be somewhat or very easy to find a new job with about the same income and benefits. That was one of the highest levels on record since GSS began asking the question in 1977.

Still, the results suggest that Democrats, who control the White House and Congress, face a dispirited electorate heading into November’s elections. Other pollsters say economic issues are the top concern for voters, and they are likely to hold the party in power accountable for high inflation that has made housing, groceries, gas and other essentials more expensive.

Amid a record hiring streak in the U.S., economists are watching for signs of a possible wave turn. WSJ’s Anna Hirtenstein looks at how rising interest rates over high inflation, market selloffs and recession risks challenge the growth of America’s workforce. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP

More broadly, the survey reveals a despondent view of national unity and partisan splits over cultural issues, suggesting that a connective tissue of pessimism underlies Americans’ economic and social attitudes. Some 86% of respondents said Americans are greatly divided when it comes to the most important values, and over half said they expect those divisions to worsen five years from now, up from just a third of respondents who were asked the question last year.

“In the prior years that we’ve asked this question, there’s at least been some hope, a little bit more hope, that things might get better,” Ms. Benz said. “That’s a key difference underlying all of this right now.”

About six in 10 respondents said they were pessimistic about the ability for most people to achieve the American dream.

Julie Olsen Edwards, an 83-year-old Soquel, Calif., retired community college teacher, said what disappoints her is that the country isn’t living up to its ideals of opportunity and justice. She described herself as a liberal and said she mostly votes Democratic.

“The promise was this was a place where what you were born into did not determine who you could be. But I think we’ve failed deeply at that,” Ms. Edwards said. “I find myself choking up saying it.”

Robert Benda, a 69-year-old retired telecommunications worker who lives in Berthoud, Colo., said that he considers freedom the most important value in America and thinks Democrats who control Washington are trying to take that away from people. He said that gas has gotten so expensive, he can hardly afford to drive the motor home in which he lives to visit family in Texas.

“I’m angry,” said Mr. Benda, a former Democrat who now considers himself very conservative. “Our government is doing what’s right for their special-interest groups, and everybody else be damned.”

In the past, a national crisis, such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, served as a rallying point for patriotism and unity, said Trevor Tompson, NORC’s senior vice president of public affairs and media research. “It’s been the absolute opposite case with this crisis with Covid,” he said.

The Journal-NORC poll showed that about a third of respondents were optimistic that people of different races or religions could come together and solve the country’s problems. Just 13% of respondents said they were optimistic that was true for Americans who hold different political views.

The survey found divisions between the two parties on a range of cultural issues. While about two-thirds of poll respondents said transgender people should be accepted by society, nearly 90% of Democrats agreed with that statement, compared with 38% of Republicans. Just over half of Republicans said their local public schools focus too much on racism, while 59% of Democrats said that schools focus too little on it. Two-thirds of Democrats said the country’s diversity makes it stronger, compared with 47% of Republicans.

Trudi McClendon, a 55-year-old DoorDash driver in Ardmore, Okla., said the country’s divides aren’t simply political. “There are people that have good Christian morals, and those that want to live by their own rules,” said Ms. McClendon, who described herself as a Republican voter.

Ms. McClendon said the country’s racial diversity is a good thing that makes the U.S. stronger, and she pointed to the media for sharpening racial divisions. “I just think there’s a lot of incidents that get—what’s the word?—they’re made to sound a whole lot worse than they are,” she said. “They get a lot of news media coverage when other good things do not, so they kind of try to keep people divided.”

Vincent Johnson, a 57-year-old in Everett, Wash., who retired from working at the King County Jail and is Black, said national conversations about race often overlook how difficult it is for low-income people to move up in society because they aren’t surrounded by the examples of success and opportunity that are common in upper-class neighborhoods.

“When people need someone to blame, they’re quick to look at people of color,” said Mr. Johnson, who said he backs Democrats for president but splits his ticket in local races. “We pretty much are dividing ourselves, and it has a devastating effect.”

Social-media companies also took heat in the survey for putting Americans at odds with each other. Nearly two-thirds of respondents, 64%, said platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are harmful for society because they emphasize differences between people, while just over one-third, 34%, said they are helpful because they provide a way for all Americans to share their opinions.

The WSJ-NORC poll surveyed 1,071 adults from May 9 through May 17. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points. Respondents were drawn from NORC’s AmeriSpeak survey panel, which uses random sampling to represent the U.S. population.

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