D. Dowd Muska


2015: The Year in Polling

December 24, 2015

Contentment, optimism, unity, and a renewed faith in our “leaders”?

Don’t look for it in 2015’s poll data. Throughout the year, surveys consistently revealed a populace that’s cynical, divided, and discouraged.

As 2016 dawned, the chief executive was “underwater” on Gallup’s scorecard, with 50 percent disapproving of his performance and 46 percent satisfied. The San Bernardino massacre and the threat of further terrorism here at home surely played a role in Obama’s subpar numbers. But he started the year with an approval rating of only 46 percent. A recovered stock market, a record run of private-sector job creation, and once-unimaginably cheap gasoline can’t buy Obama much love. In his defense, the gloom extends beyond the guy in the White House. The “Direction of Country” index compiled by RealClearPolitics yields a dismal spread of -43.5.

Race relations aren’t helping the right track-wrong track ratio. In a July poll, the Pew Research Center reported that “50 percent say that racism is a big problem in our society today. Five years ago, just 33 percent of Americans identified racism as a big problem, and in January 2009, only about a quarter (26 percent) said this.”

Citizens’ sense of personal safety declined, too. The 2015 American Values Survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that compared to 2012, the “number of Americans saying crime is a major problem in their community jumped 15 percentage points (up from 33 percent to 48 percent).” Neither news organizations (47 percent) nor large business corporations (46 percent) enjoyed “some” or “a great deal” of confidence. The institute found that even organized religion’s support stood at a less-than-impressive 55 percent.

In November, a poll by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News found 69 percent of respondents angry that “our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power … rather than working to help everyday people get ahead.” Pew’s trust-in-government analysis, issued the same month, yielded similar results. “Currently, just 19 percent say they can trust the government always or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century.” (A stunningly low 28 percent of self-identified liberals trust Washington.) Only “20 percent would describe government programs as being well-run. And elected officials are held in such low regard that 55 percent of the public says ‘ordinary Americans’ would do a better job of solving national problems.”

As for the young and supposedly idealistic, in March, Harvard asked 3,034 18-to-29-year-olds about politics and “public service.” Six in ten thought that “elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons.” Just three in ten believed that “running for office is an honorable thing to do.” More than half agreed that “elected officials don’t seem to have the same priorities I have.” And a mere 28 percent considered the “idea of working in some form of public service” appealing.

Hate Hillary? Take solace in the steady stream of 2015 polls that documented her unlikability. In May, Quinnipiac found that only 38 percent of those surveyed considered her “trustworthy and honest.” A few months later, the university’s pollsters documented her significant weaknesses in the key swing states of Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia.

In September, ABC News and The Washington Post showed her unfavorability to be 53 percent nationally, “the highest since April 2008.” The following month, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal revealed that a paltry “35 percent held favorable views of Mrs. Clinton in Iowa, compared with 59 percent who viewed her unfavorably -- a difference of 24 percentage points. In New Hampshire, the gap was 23 points.”

By December, Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart was worried. Eschewing head-to-head matchups, and examining the view from orbit, he warned that his party has “some significant work to do to retain the presidency for four more years.” Nearly three-quarters of those polled “want the next president to take a different approach from Barack Obama. That’s identical to late 2007, when 73 percent favored taking a different approach from George W. Bush.” Voters’ top concern is national security, a shift that favors the GOP. Clinton’s support from independents, at 32 percent, “is not stellar.” Finally, regarding the economy, “the key issue will be economic growth rather than economic fairness.” Not good for a candidate running on Elizabeth’s Warren flaky rhetoric. Hillary Clinton is such a lousy candidate, most polls show that Donald Trump is within striking distance.

Americans are sour and surly as 2015 comes to a close. It’s going be a bumpy 2016.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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