Monday, July 11, 2011

3 AM in America

According to a column by Frank Bruni in the New York times, Jon Huntsman recently said “for the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got.”  I remember people saying similar things in the 1970s and the early 1990s.  "For the first time" always seems to be part of the lament, as if everything had gone smoothly for all of American history until the present.  Questions about optimism and pessimism have been pretty common since the 1980s, but were rare before them.  The longest-running one is "As you look to the future, do you think life for people generally will get better, or will it get worse," first asked by Gallup in 1952 and by a number of other organizations since then.

          Better Worse Same Don't know
Feb  1952  45   33   12   10
July 1962  55   23   12   10
Jan  1979  46   46    3    6
Sept 1989  57   28   12    4
Jan  2009  61   31    3    5

The most recent figures sound remarkably favorable considering the economic situation in January 2009.  Maybe that's the result of general good feeling around Obama's inauguration; maybe people felt like we'd been through the worst of the recession and the economy would bounce back quickly, or maybe there's a mistake in reporting the numbers.  I'll look at that possibility later.  But in any case, this decade has a way to go before it can match the 1970s in terms of feeling bad.

Note:  the 1989 question was somewhat different--it asked about people in the United States over the next 10 years.  I don't think that these differences would have much effect on people's answers, but I can't be sure.

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