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.
March 17, 2010; 11:58 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Economy
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