Special Report

How Americans Felt About the State of the Nation Every Year This Century

Americans are unhappy with the way things are going in the United States, and have been for a while. Something else going on in the United States that is making a lot of people unusually dissatisfied with the direction the country is headed. (It’s worse in some places than in others. These are America’s 18 most miserable states.)

This is more than just a conclusion you might draw from reading the constant stream of outrage emanating from all sides on social media. (Name any issue and online you’ll find plenty of digital graffiti to gratify your beliefs or spike your blood pressure.)

Since 1979, Gallup has been conducting a poll that attempts to determine how Americans feel about the state of the nation each year. Those surveyed were asked: “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?” 

Reviewing the poll data, 24/7 Wall St. determined that around the turn of the century, public satisfaction with the direction the country was headed began to plummet, plunging to a rock-bottom 91% dissatisfaction rate in October 2008, in the 11th month of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression as the U.S. (Data for the 21st century was collected during multi-day stretches of most months every year since 2000. Average sentiment reflects the average share of those polled during the 12-month period who were satisfied and the share who were dissatisfied, rounded to the nearest whole number.)

It’s no surprise that economic strife increases pessimism, but what is distinct over the past 20 years is that when satisfaction rises, it doesn’t reach the peaks of happiness Americans expressed in the mid-1980s and late-1990s. And the number of dissatisfied Americans routinely plunges lower than past valleys of discontent, even during pre-2000 economic downturns. (These are the states with the best and worst economies.)

Click here to see how Americans felt about the state of the nation every year this century

Social media might not be helping Americans feel good about themselves, or their country. But this polling data suggest the incessant stream of online vitriol and discord is a symptom, not a cause, of America’s 21st-century malaise.