Political Splits Widen on Satisfaction With Life in U.S.

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The FINANCIAL — Americans’ satisfaction with four fundamental measures of the nation’s status — the overall quality of life, morality, opportunity and wealth distribution — has been fairly steady as the country transitioned from a Democratic administration to a Republican one in the past year. But beneath the surface, satisfaction among Republicans has increased on all four measures, while Democrats have grown significantly more dissatisfied with three.

None of the four measures has changed by more than three percentage points among the general public since January 2017, at the tail end of Barack Obama’s presidency, according to Gallup.

Eighty percent of the public is satisfied with the overall quality of life, unchanged from 2017.

Sixty-six percent were satisfied a year ago with the opportunity for a person to get ahead by working hard; 63% are satisfied now.

Thirty-one percent were satisfied with the moral and ethical climate last year; 28% are now.

Thirty-five percent were satisfied in 2017 with the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S.; 32% are now.

The apparent stability of American opinion, however, hides that views on each item changed by as many as 16 points among either Democrats or Republicans (with leaners included), including by double digits among both party groups on satisfaction with the opportunity to get ahead.

Vast Majority Still Satisfied With Quality of Life in U.S.

Gallup first measured Americans’ satisfaction with three of the four aspects of U.S. life in 2001 (the question on distribution of wealth and income was added in 2014), and quality of life has always scored highest with the public. Overall satisfaction on this aspect was at its highest in the first two years, at 89%, and hit a low point of 73% in 2013. (None of the questions were asked in 2009 or 2010.)

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Republicans were generally more satisfied than Democrats during the 2001-2008 presidency of Republican George W. Bush, and in 2011 and 2012 with Obama in the White House. But their satisfaction dipped to 67% by 2013, compared with 77% among Democrats, and Democrats stayed more positive throughout the rest of Obama’s second term.

Satisfaction With Opportunity to Get Ahead Rebounds Among Republicans

Roughly eight in 10 or more Republicans were satisfied in the 2001-2008 period with the opportunity to get ahead by working hard, but in 2011, the first year Gallup measured satisfaction after the financial crash of 2008 and Obama’s subsequent election, a bare majority of 55% said they were satisfied. That number has grown in each of the past four years, including a 24-point hike from 62% in 2016 to 86% now. Meanwhile, satisfaction among Democrats has sunk to 50% this year, one point below the previous low in 2006.

Satisfaction With Moral, Ethical Climate Matches 2012 Low of 28%

Satisfaction with the nation’s moral and ethical climate, which has never reached the 50% level, dropped below 30% this year for the second time, matching the 2012 low of 28%. Only 23% of Democrats are satisfied, significantly below their previous low of 31% in 2006. Republicans were less likely than Democrats to express satisfaction throughout the Obama presidency, reaching a low of 19% in 2013 and 2015. Now the percentage of Republicans saying they are satisfied has risen to 31%, the first time it has been above 30% since 2008.

Majority of Republicans Now Satisfied With Way Income, Wealth Are Distributed

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Since Gallup first asked Americans in 2014 about their satisfaction with the way wealth and income are distributed in the U.S., the percentage expressing satisfaction has never risen above 35%, reached in 2017. This year, Democratic satisfaction reached a new low of 17%, while Republican satisfaction climbed above 50% for the first time, to 56%.

Bottom Line

On one overarching aspect of life in the United States today — the overall quality of life — vast majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express satisfaction (although Republicans are currently more likely than Democrats to feel that way).

On another measure of the health of the nation, the moral and ethical climate, Republicans and Democrats alike are dissatisfied, and almost four in 10 Americans (39%) are very dissatisfied.

But on two other key aspects of life in the U.S. — the distribution of the nation’s wealth and the opportunity to get ahead through merit — the gap that has grown between Republicans and Democrats causes them now to view the issues from fundamentally different perspectives. Democrats are split on whether the U.S. truly offers the opportunity to get ahead through hard work, while the large majority of Republicans think it does. In addition, a majority of Republicans are now satisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed in the U.S., but fewer than one in five Democrats feel that way.

These drastically different viewpoints on two key measures illustrate yet again the depth and breadth of the challenges facing the two political parties and the nation’s governing bodies.


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