Americans overwhelmingly pessimistic about country’s path, poll finds

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By William Douglas

McClatchy Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — More than two-thirds of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction, the highest in nearly four and a half years, a new McClatchy-Marist Poll found.

Fully 68 percent of adults think the country is on the wrong track, while just 27 percent think things are moving in the right direction.

The last time such an overwhelming number of Americans had negative opinions of the country’s direction was November 2011, when 70 percent thought that America was going the wrong way.

The numbers are marginally worse when the poll narrows to registered voters, with 71 percent sour on the country’s path and 26 percent content.

The pessimistic view of the nation’s direction – which spans racial, gender, age and economic lines – comes despite signs of an improving economy. Employers added 215,000 positions last month and the unemployment rate was 5 percent. But that’s not enough to quell voters’ concerns.

“It’s the wages,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey.

“It’s exactly the reason why so-called anti-establishment candidates are doing well. People aren’t looking at the overall economic, unemployment numbers. They’re not looking at the consecutive months of growth. They are feeling it in their own stagnant wages and a sense that we haven’t turned the corner in terms of the block they live on. That’s the frustration.”

Republican voters say by 89-10 percent that the country is heading the wrong way. Independents shared the downcast view of the nation’s course, 77-20 percent. Democratic voters are largely split — 49 percent thinking the nation is on the wrong track and 47 percent thinking it’s on the right path.

The numbers helps explain the rise of the insurgent campaigns of Republican Donald Trump and Democratic contender Bernie Sanders, presidential candidates who have tapped into voters’ anxiety about America’s standing economically and globally.

On the campaign trail, Trump relentlessly reinforces the wrong-track notion, saying America isn’t winning economically, in global trade or in foreign affairs.

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, argues that the nation is on the wrong path because it’s failed to rein in Wall Street and provide a livable minimum wage to low-skilled workers.

“People are looking for change, and we’ve seen the emergence on both the Democratic and Republican side of candidates who certainly are nonconventional in Trump and Sanders,” Miringoff said.

“I think it plays out in the fact that Clinton hasn’t been able to wrap this up; it plays out in that Jeb Bush never got started. The most establishment candidates either sputtered or never got out of the starting blocks.”

That frustration is shared by both ends of the income spectrum. Among registered voters with household incomes under $50,000, 66 percent think the nation is going in the wrong direction, while 27 percent say it’s on the right course. In households earning more than $50,000, 70 percent said America was on the wrong track and 27 percent said things were going in the right direction.

White voters were more pessimistic, 76-20 percent, while African-Americans were divided, with 48 percent seeing America on the wrong track and 47 percent saying the country’s course is fine.

“That’s the Obama factor,” Miringoff said. “Because of Democrats’ close affinity to Obama, part of the direction of the nation, they feel, is centered on the occupant of the White House.”

With immigration a focal point of the Republican presidential campaign, 63 percent of Latino voters say the country’s heading the wrong way while 30 percent view it as on the right track.

The older voters are, the more they think America is headed the wrong way, the poll found. Seventy-three percent of registered voters 60 and older said the country was going the wrong way while 21 percent said it was on the right track.

Voters 18 to 29 are a little more optimistic but still offer a downcast view. Fifty-four percent say the country is on the wrong track and 36 percent say it’s on the right track.

Though voters are down on the country’s direction, their views of President Barack Obama are up. Fifty percent of voters approve of the job Obama is doing, up from 48 percent the last time the poll checked, in November, and the highest since April 2013.

Still, opinions of Obama divide sharply along party lines. Democrats favor Obama’s job performance by 85-11 percent in this month’s poll, Republicans disapprove 86-11 percent and independent voters approve 48-47 percent.


This survey of 1,297 adults was conducted March 29-31 by The Marist Poll sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based on a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers from Survey Sampling International. Assistance was provided by Luce Research for data collection. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey one-year estimates for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within 2.7 percentage points. There are 1,066 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within 3.0 percentage points. There are 444 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. There are 497 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. The results for these subsets are statistically significant within 4.7 percentage points and 4.4 percentage points, respectively. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.


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