Decline of American optimism

american optimism under a rain cloudWhat happens when a country loses a key feature of its personality, or at least a key part of the story its people tells themselves about its greatness? America is about to find out. This thoughtful piece by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post examines the decline in American optimism and the collective sense that the future will be brighter. Milbank summarizes new polling data on the topic this way:

It has been slipping for some time, really, but a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month put an exclamation point on Americans’ lost optimism.

When asked if “life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us,” fully 76 percent said they do not have such confidence. Only 21 percent did. That was the worst ever recorded in the poll; in 2001, 49 percent were confident and 43 percent not.

Milbank attributes the decline in part to the weak economic recovery, but more importantly, to the breakdown in the functioning of the political system.

[Democratic pollster Fred] Yang doesn’t see that improving much, even as the economy does. “The unsettledness of the public is what is normal now,” he said. “To me, this is less about economic reality than about our political system—our lack of confidence that our political leaders, regardless of party, are equipped to deal with the future.”

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