Americans Discontent, Nervous About Economy, And Unsure Of Republicans

A new poll shows that the American public is discontented, nervous about the economy, not entirely sure they can trust the new GOP majority in Congress, and has no idea what it wants from Washington. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, Americans are heading into the holidays and the New Year as discontented and nervous about the state of the economy as they’ve been since the beginning of economic downturn started in 2008:

A month after voters chucked the Democrats out of control of the House of Representatives, a boost in political optimism is nowhere to be found. While a plurality of Americans, 41 percent, see the House switch as a good thing, that’s fewer than said so the last two times it’s happened, in 2006 and 1994. And 67 percent say the country’s seriously off on the wrong track.

The reason is plain: A record 71 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’ve been hurt by the recession, with nearly four in 10 hurt “a great deal.” Fifty-seven percent say the economy has not yet begun to recover — up 8 points from a year ago. One in three reports a job loss in their own household within the past year; equally remarkably, 72 percent say a close friend or relative has lost a job or been laid off. Both are new highs since the recession began.


The economy aside, the federal budget deficit doesn’t help the public’s mood, and in that regard this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds some potential room to move: In order to address the deficit, nearly half of Americans, 48 percent, say they’d support gradually increasing the age at which people can receive full Social Security benefits.

At the same time, the poll finds that the incoming Republican Congress is facing a huge amount of public skepticism:

Republicans may have made major gains in the November elections, but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The midterm elections – in which Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House and added six seats to their Senate minority – were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public trusts Obama marginally more than congressional Republicans to deal with the country’s main problems in the coming years, 43 percent to 38 percent.

The poll suggests that the election may have been a vote against the status quo, but that it was not a broad mandate for Republicans and their plans. The survey also underscores the degree to which Americans are conflicted about who they think is setting the agenda in Washington.

The president’s narrow advantage is a striking contrast to the public’s mood at this time in 1994 and 2006, the last two midterm election years when one or both chambers of Congress changed hands.

After Democrats won back the House and the Senate four years ago, they had a large, double-digit lead over President George W. Bush when it came to big issues. Similarly, after the GOP’s 1994 landslide, people expressed far more confidence in congressional Republicans than they did in President Bill Clinton.

In the new poll, just 41 percent of respondents say the GOP takeover of the House is a “good thing.” About 27 percent say it is a “bad thing,” and 30 percent say it won’t make any difference. Most continue to say that the Republicans in Congress are not doing enough to compromise with Obama on important issues.

At this time in 1994, six in 10 Americans said the GOP had taken a stronger leadership role in Washington, while just one in four said Clinton was firmly in charge. In the new poll, Americans are about evenly split between Obama and the Republicans in Congress on this question.

The public is also divided down the middle when it comes to the top issue: About 45 percent say they trust the GOP when it comes to the economy; 44 percent side with Obama. In the wake of the 1994 elections, Republicans held a sizable, 23-point advantage over Clinton on the economy. The new poll also has even splits between Obama and the GOP on taxes and dealing with the threat of terrorism.

This isn’t really all that much of a surprise, of course. Despite Republican efforts to turn the midterm election results into some kind of a mandate, it was fairly clear from the exit polls that the primary motivation that drove people to the polls on November 2nd was discontent over the state of the economy and the apparent inability of the President and the Democrats in Congress to do anything about it. Moreover, it’s fairly clear that the public is not entirely sold on some of the central items of the GOP agenda:

Even as Republicans are determined to fulfill their campaign promises to reduce spending, repeal the new health-care law and in other ways block the president’s agenda, the public’s ambivalence serves as a warning that the GOP will not have a free hand in the new Congress.

Obama maintains double-digit leads over Republicans in two big areas – helping the middle class and health-care reform. The GOP has a significant edge on only one issue tested in the poll: When it comes to dealing with the federal budget deficit, Republicans in Congress are up eight points.

But while Republicans are more trusted on the issue, Americans believe that the president is more genuine in wanting to reduce the deficit. More than two in three say Obama is sincere in his commitment to deficit reduction, while only a bare majority say the same for congressional Republicans.


Of the nine ways proposed in the poll to close to budget deficit – including some outlined in the report recently released by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – not a single one gets majority support. Seven are opposed by 51 percent or more.

Nearly eight in 10 poll respondents oppose raising federal gasoline taxes, and about two-thirds are against cutting yearly Social Security benefit increases or eliminating the tax deduction that parents can take for children younger than 18. Most also oppose raising the capital gains tax, reducing federal aid to agriculture, cutting defense spending or gradually bumping up the qualifying age for Social Security payouts.

So, as I’ve noted before, it’s fairly clear that the American public is both incredibly pissed off, and has no idea what it really wants. That’s a recipe for gridlock in Washington, screaming on talk radio and the cable networks, and another vitriolic election campaign in two years.

None of these bodes well for the future, of course, since it’s likely to cause both parties to do little more than pander to their respective bases as the 2012 elections draw closer. If the economy doesn’t improve significantly between now and then, that’s just likely to cause the public’s overall opinion of Washington, Congress, and both political parties to deteriorate even further.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Congress, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Pug says:

    The American public has been told for thirty plus years now that you can cut taxes, increase spending and not have to borrow money if you just get rid of all that fraud, waste and abuse and the welfare bums.

    They get it.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Americans may be unsure of the Republicans but they sure as anything know what they think of the Democrats.

  3. narciso says:

    You would figure, to dismiss such a poorly constructed poll, except for trivia purposes, beginning
    with the sampling of adults, which makes it totally ridiculous