Trib poll finds United States going in the wrong direction
No matter how you frame it, Americans are dissatisfied with Congress and President Obama, divisional politics and the direction the country is going.
“I have got a lot of uncertainty towards both sides with how they govern once they get to Washington,” said Mike Delauder of Garrett, Ind. “I am sure it is a difficult job, and I don’t doubt that they try hard, but when they get stuck on party-line politics, it is incredibly frustrating because nothing gets done.”
Sixty percent of those surveyed nationwide for the Tribune-Review by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling and Research think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Sixty-one percent believe the country is more divided than ever and that the division will worsen.
Fifty-four percent are unhappy with Obama’s job performance, and a whopping 73 percent disapprove of Congress’s performance.
In short, most everyone finds things upside down and heading the wrong way, said Delauder, 52, a maintenance manager at a steel service center who was among those polled.
The sampling of 1,009 adults has a margin of error of 3.09 percentage points. Participants’ political leanings were almost evenly divided among the major parties: 33 percent independent, 31 percent Republican, and 29 percent Democrat.
Pollster Jim Lee finds the right track/wrong track numbers a fairly common occurrence in American politics, noting the party out of power typically touts the notion that the country is “going to hell in a handbasket.”
“When the Democrats occupy the White House, Republicans beat this drum — and when Republicans are in the White House, Democrats do the same thing,” Lee said. “So if you look back through history, you will find very few times when results to this question leaned optimistic.”
Delauder sees it as “a game that both sides play.” He has never voted straight-ticket.
“I vote for the person who speaks to the values I believe in,” he said. He’s satisfied with Indiana’s government, pointing to “a history of good managers as governors.” In fact, he said, “I would argue that is where leadership is — in governors’ offices.”
Lee says the near-even split of registered Republicans, Democrats or independents is an indicator that the country remains right-of-center.
“But ultimately, it doesn’t lean too hard one way or the other,” he said. “The fact that nonaffiliated voters and independents account for nearly 40 percent of all voters shows the gradual decline of the popularity of both political parties.”
Randall Walker of Statesboro, Ga., considers himself an independent-thinking voter.
“I look at policies on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “There are some great ideas on both sides, and a little compromise from both on issues would be good for the country.”
Walker, 50, a high school ROTC teacher, said Obama’s signature health care law, for example, could have used input from Republicans.
“While it was brave of Obama to try it, there are problems with it that probably could have been avoided,” he said.
Is it worse today?
The political discourse in news and current events takes a toll on the average person’s psyche, Lee said the survey suggests.
On the question of division in the country, and whether dissension will get worse, only 30 percent believe that Americans agree more than we disagree and that our best days are ahead of us, he said.
“But it’s worth mentioning that many Americans still lack historical context on this question,” Lee said.
Political historians say it’s hard to call the nation more divided than ever, considering turbulent eras such as the years surrounding the Civil War. For example, in 1856, U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a radical Republican, delivered a fiery anti-slavery speech and was beaten by a colleague with a cane more than 30 times on the Senate floor.
A few years later, a full-blown brawl erupted on the House floor involving more than 30 members of Congress over whether Kansas would allow slavery.
“You don’t need to look back too far in our country’s past to see an equal amount of major turbulence,” said Walker, who recently completed another college degree in homeland security.
The poll showing Obama’s approval rate at 40 percent was taken shortly after a terrorists’ massacre Jan. 7 at the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris horrified people worldwide. The president’s subsequent decision not to send a high-ranking representative to a march that became Europe’s biggest display by leaders against terrorism likely factored into the results, Lee said.
“I believe that Americans, to a big extent, were grading Obama harshly on national security and terrorism issues, and these results become a manifestation of the trepidation people have over what’s playing out with terrorist groups,” he said.
The president did not get a bump in the polls from his Jan. 20 State of the Union address. The Susquehanna survey was conducted by telephone from Jan. 15-25.
Walker, who voted for Obama twice, said he’s satisfied with the job the president is doing overall.
The poor rating for Congress could reflect Americans’ fondness for bashing government, Lee said.
“I am happier with Congress today than I was in the past two years,” Walker said. “Already you see more things debated and getting done in one month than you saw in the last session.”
Delauder agrees, noting that elected officials “are finally addressing spending and pocketbook issues.” He considers that “unbelievably important, because our country is heading deeper and deeper in debt and could become the next Greece.”
“Sometimes, we associate government and Congress as the same thing; it’s not, but it sure sometimes feels like it,” he said.
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer.