Make a U-Turn Uncle Sam, You're Heading the Wrong Way,' Say US Public

07 April 2008

NEW YORK: In 1991 the New York Times and CBS launched a joint nationwide phone survey to gauge the views, fears and aspirations of Joe and Jo Public. Last week the survey found that US citizens are more dissatisfied than ever before with the way the nation is heading. 

Eighty-one percent of the 1,368 adults interviewed between March 28 to April 2 believe that "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track". This compares with 69% this time last year and 35% in early 2002. 

And from whichever side of the political and demographic divide the survey respondents hail, they are overwhelmingly united in their view that the United States is headed in the wrong direction.

Among the poll's findings ...

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4% said it was better off.

  • Only 21% said the overall economy was in good condition, the lowest such number since late 1992, when the recession that began in the summer of 1990 had already been over for more than a year. In the latest poll, two in three people said they believed the economy was in recession today.
  • As to president George W Bush, 28% of respondents said they approved of the job he was doing, a number that has barely changed since last summer.
  • Respondents were considerably more open to government help for home owners at risk of foreclosure. 53% said they believed the government should help those whose interest rates were rising, while 41% said they opposed such a move.
  • In the latest poll, 17% named terrorism or the war as their greatest concern, while 37 percent named the economy or the job market.
  • When looking at the current state of their own finances, Americans remain relatively sanguine. More than 70% said their financial situation was fairly good or very good, a number that has dropped only modestly since 2006.
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they would support raising taxes on households making more than $250,000 to pay for tax cuts or government programs for people making less than that amount. Only 38 percent called it a bad idea. Both Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Barack Obama,  have made proposals along these lines.
  • More broadly, 43% of those surveyed said they would prefer a larger government that provided more services - a view that tied for the highest such number since the survey began in 1991. But an identical 43% said they wanted the exact reverse.
  • And although both Clinton and Obama have blamed trade with other countries for some of the economy's problems, Americans say they continue to favor trade — if not quite as strongly as in the past. 58% called it good for the economy; 32% called it bad, up from 17% in 1996.
  • At the same time, 68% said they favored trade restrictions to protect domestic industries, instead of allowing unrestrained trade. In early 1996, 55% favored such restrictions.
The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points. Michael R Kagay, former professor of public-opinion and survey research at Princeton University, assisted The Times in its polling analysis.

The survey questions and results data can be accessed by clicking here.

    Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff