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Hey, are you satisfied — with the way things are going in the United States?

Most Americans, apparently, are not.

REUTERS/Brenna Norman

How satisfied are you with the way things are going in the United States?

Me, I’m having a very good life in my 71st year on the planet, spent primarily in the USA, including 43 in Minnesota, the best of the states. Sure, my country faces some tough challenges to be all it can be. So, on balance, I have no (legitimate) complaints about the strokes of fate (mostly involving my grandparent who emigrated here from the Russian Empire) that made me a U.S. citizen at birth.

But “satisfied?” That raises a whole bunch of questions about the direction of the whole country, the kind of questions you don’t get to explore when a pollster gives you two choices to answer the question. Gallup asks it this way:

In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?

Anyway, let’s assume that, if they ask that over time, they’ll get to something other than my feelings about my own very good life, but about the state of things in the whole U.S. (at this time).

The most recent Gallup poll, taken Sept. 1-17 of this year, registered: dissatisfied, by 75-24 percent.

Kinda creepy, right? But you wouldn’t want to read too much into that one poll question. Luckily, Gallup has been asking regularly for quite a while, monthly or more.

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The first such poll of 2021, taken the week of the insurrection at the Capitol, was tied for the highest “dissatisfied” number registered in many years, 88 percent dissatisfied to 11 percent satisfied. I guess we could call that reading indicates a population that is “collectively freaked out,” or words to that effect.

But that’s not good enough to explain it.  And it is very much not new.

The dissatisfaction number was above 80 percent in eight of the 12 months of 2011. Then It floats around some, but not really that much. The dissatisfaction number hasn’t been below 70 percent since mid-2009. (Even then it never got lower than 62 percent.) And it had been up to 88 percent several times over the years. The worst ever was measured in October of 2008, with a whopping  91-7 percent describing themselves as dissatisfied. (That was at the end of George W. Bush’s second term, the month before Barack Obama was elected.)

Personally, if I were asked the question, I would want to know in what way were they asking me if I was satisfied. My life has been wonderful. Far above satisfactory. But if I thought they were asking me about my life, and I wasn’t allowed to quibble and define terms and had to choose “satisfied” or “dissatisfied,” I would’ve said “satisfied” in every period I can remember, even when I was struggling. I don’t know about you.

But if they asked it about things in the country more generally, I would probably have answered “satisfied” more often when the president was someone I liked better, and maybe

“dissatisfied” if that’s how I felt about the political leadership.

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Since it’s a poll, you can’t ask follow-up questions like “what do you mean by ‘satisfied?’”

But while I was working on this little piece, I discovered another pollster, called Civiqs, which is connected to the liberal blog “Daily Kos” that recently asked people whether they were “satisfied” or “dissatisfied” with various elements of life in the United States. And they broke the results down by the party affiliation of the respondent. So here’s where the analysis gets partisan.

When asked whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with “the state of democracy” in our fair nation, Democrats were dissatisfied by a whopping 88-5 (even though Democrats are currently, nominally, barely in control).

But Republicans were even more dissatisfied by (what’s more than whopping?) 90-3. I’ll give you a link to all the specific things Civiqs/Daily Kos asked about below. But a couple seemed noteworthy, especially where the answers diverged dramatically across party lines.

Majorities of both parties were hugely dissatisfied with the “state of democracy,” in our poor, dear nation. But the Republicans (90-3) even more dissatisfied than the Democrats (86-7), which might have something to do with the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Republicans were wildly more dissatisfied with the price of things (a gallon of gas, household goods) than were Democrats. Both parties are unhappy about the state of race relations, but the Democrats substantially moreso (79-6 for Dems, vs. 50-14 for Repubs – although that leaves a lot of non-answerers on the R side).

There were only two questions (out of 10) in which the overall response flipped between respondents of the two parties, although the size of the margins varied widely.

Asked about the current “state of freedom to live as one chooses,” a solid majority of Democrats (56-26 percent) said they were satisfied with the current state of that freedom.

But by an overwhelming 73-17 percent Republican respondents were not satisfied with their level of “freedom.”

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And the biggest partisan gap, by a huge margin, was on the question of whether respondents were satisfied with the current size of the “wealth gap” between the rich and the poor. The national number, irrespective of party, indicates that by 58 to 10 percent, respondents thought the wealth gap was too big. But the partisan breakdown, oh my!

By 91-2 Democrats emphatically viewed the wealth gap as too big.  By 21-20 percent, the Republicans thought it was ok. That apparently left a humongous 59 percent of Republicans who wouldn’t answer that one.

This was fun (for me at least) to think about.

The full Daily Kos writeup, including questions I didn’t mention, can be accessed here.