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Survey: Americans in a pessimistic mood

By Dan Balz
Americans have long prided themselves as being part of an optimistic society. But a new survey portrays Americans as pessimistic, believing the nation is in decline and that quality of life for future generations may be lower than it is today.

Defining the American Dream is not easy, although four definitions dominate people's perceptions of what it means to them, according to researchers at the Xavier University's Institute for Politics and the American Dream: opportunity, freedom, family and financial success. Happiness, wealth, home ownership are among the things that rank as less important in people's views of what the dream means.

However people define it, they believe the American Dream is harder to achieve for this generation that it was for their parents' generation. Sixty percent of those surveyed by Xavier University said that was their conclusion. Even more -- 68 percent -- said their children and grandchildren will find it more difficult to achieve than they have.

The results may not be surprising, given the state of the economy. The deep recession that has gripped the nation sent the unemployment rate to 10.2 percent late last year (it is now at 9.7 percent). Add to that the damage done to retirement savings accounts by the sharp decline in the stock market in late 2008 and early 2009 and it's little wonder Americans are in a pessimistic mood.

Still, the findings are a reminder of the political climate facing politicians this year. Today, a majority of Americans -- 58 percent -- see the country in decline. A smaller majority -- 52 percent -- believe the world now looks to many other places to see where the future is, while just 45 percent believe this country best represents the future.

The survey was commissioned by Michael Ford, the director of the institute who spent years as a Democratic Party strategist and organizer. The survey was conducted by another veteran Democratic strategist, Paul Maslin. It included a national survey of all Americans and a separate, smaller, survey of first and second generation immigrants.

Maslin asked people to rate the condition of the American Dream. The results showed that those who define the dream in terms of financial security see it in the worst shape. Among the most pessimistic were middle-age white women from the Midwest. Those most positive were Latinos and African Americans.

For all the pessimism, there was one notable piece of optimism. Asked about their own likelihood of achieving the American Dream, 67 percent said they were confident they could.

By Dan Balz  |  March 17, 2010; 11:58 AM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , Economy  
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Comments

The most recent immigrant group always jumps starts the economy of our nation with hard work, tenacity and confidence.

Our immigration policy stinks, from IT wizards from India to fruit pickers from Mexico - it is the immigrant who is seeking a better life who achieves his/her dream.

The endless wars are very discouraging: trade wars, drug wars, immigrant wars, Iraqi wars, Afghani wars, Pakistani wars , Yemeni wars, and throw in the Somali pirates for good measure.

Posted by: alance | March 17, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Based on the long history of the general public's being wrong much more often than not, this may be the most optimistic indicator yet.

Posted by: RAB2 | March 17, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Americans in a pessimistic mood is an understatement. 8 million people lost their jobs in the last two years.

The rest are either overworked and under appreciated or under employed and marginalized.

Inflation adjusted take home pay has been going down since the 1970's.

This is the end game of all the financial theft that the International Bankers have been committing while being aided and abetted by a Warmongering Hegemony that is bankrupting our treasury to the delight of interest earning said bankers:

http://funy1.blogspot.com/2010/03/collapse-phase-ii-hyper-deflation.html


Posted by: orionquest | March 17, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Peoples dreams in many countries is home ownership a job and a family,in some other countries it is just trying to find enough food for the day,but many dreams are shattered by greed of others and poorly regulated financial systems.

Posted by: judyterry | March 17, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Americans have good reason to be pessimistic. Twenty years of Reaganism have finally caught up with us. Twenty years of tax cuts for Wall St investment bankers and trust fund babies, deregulation, gutting anti-pollution laws, weakening white collar crime laws, shipping jobs to China and India, originalist activist judges gutting the Constitution, and just conservaturdism in general...what do you expect? Americans to bend over and say, Sir, May I have some more, please?

Posted by: Garak | March 17, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Americans have every right to be pessimistic. Twenty years of Reaganism have finally caught up with us. Twenty years of corporate welfare, deregulation, tax cuts for Wall St investment bankers and trust-fund babies, gutting anti-pollution laws, turning a blind eye to corporate fraud, shipping jobs to China, and just conservaturdism in general have put us in the deepest hole since the Great Depression.

What else do you expect?

Posted by: Garak | March 17, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Like any Empire in human history we are doomed. Corruption is the culprit of our demise.Until, we undertand our human nature and history then we only hope that things can get better. We are pessimistic because special selfinterest overshadows any common interest. We have sold oourselves short because we tought that we can only live the moment and not care for the long term. We are paying for all the mistakes that our greedy society has made.

Posted by: Bo1967 | March 17, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

OH GEE I WONDER WHY, GOVERNMENT IS GREEDY AN SO IS BIG BUSINESS, BIG OIL, AIG, WALL STREET ALL OF THEM SO CROOKED AN THEIVES AN THUGS IN SUITES . YA THINK THAT MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING TOO DO WITH THAT ?

Posted by: JWTX | March 17, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

With the second Jimmy Carter Administration in power it's 1978 all over again. The late 70s were an abysmal time to which Carter thought the country suffered from a malaise. Lack of leadership at the top is more like it jimmy. But life is cyclical and we'll be back on top again as soon as the country wakes up to the fact we have an incompetent president and Congress in power and they need to be voted out of office. Just a bit less than three more years of this garbage to go.

Posted by: kmp1 | March 17, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

We Americans actually tend to be somewhat fragile in our dispositions.

Those of us who are most optimistic and nationalist-hyped during good times tend to have a collective ego collapse when bad times come. We easily discourage and become paranoid about our national strength and resolve.

For a nation so obviously rich and powerful as ours, isn't it even a little strange that we have to celebrate it so much and so blatantly? As if others, in this world of nations, cannot see our glory?

Posted by: paultaylor1 | March 17, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

They haven't seen anything yet.
Wait until the as$ hole democrats and their chief incompetent in the White House bankrupt the country.
Then let's see how this B.S. hope and change stuff feels.
I hope the first to lose everything are the dumbas$es who fell for Odumbo's message and didn't take the time to find out he was a leftist college boy clown who has no leadeship, no integrity and no competence.

Posted by: LarryG62 | March 17, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

____________________________

Really Larry are you sure? Why all the anger? Why don't you out and enjoy this beautiful day and a pint of Guiness or three?

Posted by: bob29 | March 17, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

No surprise--just read the petulant attacks on Obama, and it is easy to see that those people love to complain, even if they have to make up imaginary things to complain about. They're never happier than when they've found a new insult or sarcastic remark.

Lacking any substance to their critiques, they rely on smarmy name calling and whining--not to make a point really but just to express their overwhelming agnst. It's sad that so many people hate their lives so much.

Posted by: writinron | March 17, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Did you say "a national survey of all Americans"? Shouldn't that be "national SAMPLING"? Were "all Americans" really contacted for this "survey"? Funny, they missed me.

What were the numbers and percentages of people surveyed? In the past, stories about surveys included this qualifying information.

Where are the editors? Just one more step down in the sad declension of American journalism.

Posted by: gdmurray1861 | March 17, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Change.

Posted by: zippyspeed | March 17, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Americans SHOULD be pessimistic. The Bush administration left America in a bad situation and with all the optimism that swept Pres. Obama into the white house, things haven't gotten any better.

We now know what went wrong but haven't done enough to prevent it from happening again. The President made it clear who the enemies are (insurance companies, wall street, and some banks).

Then there's the republicans. There to thwart whatever common sense policies the President comes up with, with no viable ones of their own.

So the American people see that the Government is not working, that it has failed the citizens from the 911 first responders to the Katrina victims. The people also believe that Government operations APPEAR to be as corrupt as those on wall street, yet everytime the President tries to change policy and reign in the culprits who have failed the citizens, the citizens themselves are not there to support him. They are more interest in a golfer's sex life than helping to make health care affordable to most Americans.

We protest over the wrong things, don't know what to focus on, if we even move to action on anything. Therefore I predict a sharp decline in the quality of life for the average American, and because we have a don't care attitude unless it affects us dirrectly, we deserve whatever is coming our way.

And Lord help our children and their future. They are fat, spoiled, and have lost their standing in education compared to children in their age groups around the globe. It all spells trouble for their future, but they are too dumb to realize it and we are to lazy to force them to value it more.

You therefore get what you deserve.

Posted by: keedrow | March 17, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

They haven't seen anything yet.
Wait until the as$ hole democrats and their chief incompetent in the White House bankrupt the country.
Then let's see how this B.S. hope and change stuff feels.
I hope the first to lose everything are the dumbas$es who fell for Odumbo's message and didn't take the time to find out he was a leftist college boy clown who has no leadeship, no integrity and no competence.

Posted by: LarryG62 | March 17, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

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