January 5, 2007

Why are Americans pessimistic and optimistic simultaneously?

It's a mystery:
A new AP-AOL News Poll finds that while most Americans said 2006 was a bad year for the country, three-fourths thought it had been a good one for them and their families. Seven in 10 Americans feel good about what 2007 will bring for the country, and nearly 90 percent are optimistic about the new year for them and their families.

A Washington Post-ABC News Poll found similar sentiments about 2007. More than 60 percent of the public said it would be a good year for protecting against terrorist attacks, the state of the national economy and “the way things are going in this country.”

By contrast, more than six in 10 Americans tell pollsters the country is on the “wrong track.” Bush’s polls ratings are reaching historical lows. And most Americans don’t think the U.S. is winning in Iraq, according to a variety of surveys.
It's just human nature, isn't it? And it's not a bad thing either. You feel suspicious and critical about the government -- and you should. But then, as a healthy, balanced person, you trust things will work out all right.

33 comments:

Gerry said...

I think a lot of it has to do with reporting.

People do not need reporters to tell them how things are going in their own lives. They experience it.

However, a lot of how we perceive things as going outside of our immediate circle is colored by the reporting of how things are going in our states, our country, and our world.

If the reporting is overwhelmingly negative, then you can end up with the dichotomy you mention.

I can spin this off to the point that can then be made about media bias, but the entire argument in that direction is fairly obvious from this point, so I'll save myself the typing and everyone else the reading, and hopefully avoid that partisan food fight.

The Drill SGT said...

yeah, what Gerry said!

even less typing ;)

Anonymous said...

Night is day, indeed. Goebbels would be so proud.

Bo Steed said...

Do polls really mean anything? Watch the average person on a local news show anymore. Even some schmuck shoehorned into a "man on the street" interview can recite sound bites with the best of them. Nobody is camera shy anymore, and nobody is content to claim they are unsure of anything. The result is usually a forced answer, tainted with a soft version political correctness. I suspect the same is true in these poll settings as well. We have all become Evan Bayh, more or less.

John Kindley said...

"You feel suspicious and critical about the government -- and you should." -- Libertarianism in a nutshell.

But yeah, government is necessary and natural.

Taking a good idea too far is bad.

Libertarianism itself is good.

NSC said...

Ditto. Not matter how good our lives are going the media tells us otherwise so we end up schizophrenic. Well, not me, I don't trust a thing the main stream media says.

The upside is now that the Dems are in charge we should be hearing all sorts of good news so the polls will all even out.

Except for that Bush/Iraq War thing, of course. That's bad and won't be good until a Dem is elected president and then we will suddenly be winning.

Let the partisanship fly . . .

hdhouse said...

I think (yes I do think) that it has more to do with a complex life. There are a lot of positives in the workplace right now and there are a lot of good opportunities because the richy-riches of the world can't find anything to do with their money...and there is a lot of bad bad bad news looming on the horizon so we poor middle class get up each day and open the mail and its a lady or the tiger.

Anonymous said...

yeah, what Gerry said!

Woe is MEdia

Joe said...

Ditto.
Less yet.

sonicfrog said...

This is the same reason the Consumer Confidence Index is usualy rubbish. How many times have we heard the index shows consumers rate the economy as poor, yet the actual monetary indicators show those very same consumers are spending like... well, congress! The economy is measured by the flow of money through the wallet, not the eddies and tides of public opinion.

AJ Lynch said...

I think we have become a nation which whines a bit too much. Disdain and resentment are the new national moods.

The polls suggest we only see these traits in others because as you know I am just a genuinely upbeat and cheerful individual.

sonicfrog said...

... Oh, and of coarse things are predicted to get better this year - Democrats are in charge!

MadisonMan said...

Always look on the bright side of life.

The song says nothing about the bright side of Government. Is there one?

John Kindley said...

One nice thing about comment moderation among the many negatives is that when the comment does go up, we can say "Althouse approved this message."

Anonymous said...

we can say "Althouse approved this message."

You can do that, I agree. I sincerely doubt it would be accurate, however.

dix said...

There are a lot of positives in the workplace right now and there are a lot of good opportunities because the richy-riches of the world can't find anything to do with their money

That's as good an explanation of supply side economics as I've seen.

Cat said...

I agree with Gerry and will add that usually the poll questions are confusing.

Oprah who did a lame-o confused show on class/income levels (really it was about lifestyle). She had Robert Reich (an "expert") forecasting doom about the "disappearing middle class," and claiming there are now "no middle wrungs on the ladder," to financial security yet she has all these people on there to explain what makes someone low class or upper class,and most of them rose from low-income to middle or upper-income. Hmm. (by the way, if you have a knock off hand bag, you're low-class; you have a genuine Gucci bag, you are high-class - that was the show!

So the show was meant to be one of Oprah's "eye opening" downers about the haves and the have nots who are so screwed, but then she disproves her own point.

I hope I am making my point that I think people believe they are the lucky few who are OK, but most Americans are miserable since they are told that daily by the NYT, Katie and Oprah.

Henry said...

we poor middle class get up each day and open the mail and its a lady or the tiger

That's some mailing list you're on.

That "wrong track" question just baffles me. Considering that we're travelling on the same broad highway that Teddy Roosevelt laid out in 1900, what exactly is this wrong track? It's like six in 10 Americans are yelling from the back seat that they need to pee and can we stop at McDonalds.

AJ Lynch said...

Hdhouse lamented:

"..and there is a lot of bad bad bad news looming on the horizon so we poor middle class get up each day and open the mail and its a lady or the tiger."

The goods news is more and more of this mail is on re-cyclable paper.

Daryl Herbert said...

It's just human nature, isn't it?

I doubt it. Do people in most other countries respond the same way? Or is it something about American culture?

John Kindley said...

"One nice thing about comment moderation among the many negatives is that when the comment does go up, we can say "Althouse approved this message."

To which Internet Ronin said...

"You can do that, I agree. I sincerely doubt it would be accurate, however."

Accurate? Yes. Misleading? Also yes.

Gerry said...

"It's just human nature, isn't it? "

By the way, I should have addressed this portion of your post.

It is not just human nature, or even American nature as someone else suggested. The proof of this is straightforward-- the only times in recent memory where this sort of disconnect has occurred, with people being dour about the current affairs but optimistic about the next year, even while being personally comfortable, are during the two Bush Presidencies. People were optimistic and content during the Reagan years, and during the Clinton years. If it was just human nature, it would have been the way it is now back then.

kmg4 said...

We are living in the best of times, as explained here. The negative media is designed to make people remember the Bush years badly.

I am beginning to think a large part of the 90s boom and stock-market bubble was due to the media whipping people up into optimism because the media loved Clinton. I am beginning to think that Democrats have an advantage in how well the economy will do during their rule, due to the media being able to control consumer confidence.

Morgan said...

Couldn't it be that if 2006 was actually bad for 25% of Americans and their families, that some portion of the other 75% might justifiably say that it had been a bad year for the country? I mean, aren't "bad year" and "on the wrong track" implicitly relative judgments?

That said, I find it most heartening that at least 60% of those who had a bad 2006 are optimistic about 2007. As far as I'm concerned, that shows some grit.

Buddy Larsen said...

24 hour news, and cell phones are frying our branes

Ed said...

Cat said: "So the show was meant to be one of Oprah's "eye opening" downers about the haves and the have nots who are so screwed, but then she disproves her own point."

Which is kind of ironic, considering how Oprah herself rose from poverty to become one of the richest women in the world and one of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry.

Anonymous said...

Touche, John Kindley: You are right on both points, and that reminds of the discussion on another thread here about deceptive and misleading and their respective meanings.

Quadraginta said...

I'm reading a book on the Iwo Jima campaign, and a corpsman who was there remarked later that every man who landed thought he would survive; it would be some other poor sod who got hit. Same thing. Each man recognized the statistics but thought he personally would beat 'em.

You could call it self-delusion or you could call it optimism, and either way recognize it as a remarkably powerful American trait.

Anonymous said...

"I think a lot of it has to do with reporting."

Hilarious. It's always the media's fault with you people, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

1) You see this tendency in other countries, too.

2) It's not a mystery, and it's not mostly induced by media, I bet -- it is deeply human. *I* will get by, *I* will survive, no matter how many reports on accidents or diseases or killings we run into.

Gerry said...

PG, I am open to being convinced. Can you provide some to back your claim that you see this phenomenon in other countries?

I presented cases showing it is not the norm here. You just had to look at right track/wrong track numbers and also Presidential job performance numbers and the like during the Reagan and Clinton years. Americans were optimistic and optimistic during those terms. You can go back further and find the same during the Eisenhower years and at the start of the Kennedy administration.

salvage said...

>I think a lot of it has to do with reporting.

So war, terrorism, all these negatice stories about them, they're all lies?

You make no sense.

salvage said...

Ahahah!

Oh Ann, finally filtering your comments, I knew this day would come.

Your ego wouldn't let your just shut them all off anymore than it can stand anyone pointing out how deeply silly you are.