“Pessimistic Americans” is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” or “only choice.” It simply sounds strange to the ear in this Land of Opportunity and optimism.
But a consistent torrent of polling data over a long period of time makes it clear we are more a nation of Grumpys than Happys, kvetching over the state of the nation and expressing skepticism that things will ever get better. We love our country, but we’re not upbeat about its prospects.
It does not really matter how the question is asked, how big the sample sizes or margins of error are, or who is polled — the data is clear that Americans have found a way to simultaneously feel proud of the nation but decidedly gloomy about the present and future.
There are so many polling examples to choose from, but here’s just a sample of why they call it the blues:
·There is bipartisan dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and the economy, with 78% of Democrats and 92% of Republicans saying things are going in the wrong direction. Dissatisfaction has been above 60% since 2005.
·Look at how the Gallup survey has tracked plummeting satisfaction over time:
Part of the unhappiness comes from the partisan divide, which also can be measured in all sorts of ways:
·Only one-third of Democrats and half of Republicans say they have friends from the other party.
·Nearly two-thirds of current college students say they can’t imagine marrying someone who voted for a different presidential candidate in 2020.
·More than two in five Americans — including a majority of Republicans — say civil war is at least somewhat likely within the next decade.
The land that gave birth to the Happiest Place on Earth is now, apparently, anything but happy.
And while the numbers are bleak now, they are also part of a long-term trend in which, to quote a former vice president, everything that ought to be up is down and everything that ought to be down is up.
The bitter mood impacts most everything — how we feel about our politicians, our schools, our economic prospects, and, most ominously, our fellow citizens.
The implications and stakes of all this darkness for our politics are clear. At some point, the fading chants of “USA! USA! USA!” could well become a distant memory of a bygone era when positive feelings about America’s sustained “the best is yet to come” ethos united the country, rather than what we have now, where negative thoughts seem to inexorably turn Blue against Red and vice versa.
Obviously, all of this unhappiness and wariness about what comes next derives from more than politics. Culture, mental health, economics, and more all play their role as well, in an interconnected downward spiral that is tough to turn around.
But our ossified political dynamics clearly are a big part of what ails the country. The extremes on the far right and far left have made grievance and negativity into full time personal and professional preoccupations that stoke a never-ending cycle of bleakness.
The rest of us — the tens of millions of Americans who reside across the political spectrum but share a common belief in quiet consensus over screaming rancor — listen to those loud, angry voices on the national town square who too often dominant our discourse and our potential to get stuff done and have our own reasons to feel less hopeful than our parents’ generation did about our shared future.
This is why No Labels is focused on the 2024 presidential campaign as an opportunity to change the level of hope and optimism across the country, by making sure the nation has a great choice for the White House in the upcoming election.
Other efforts train the focus on changing the process or players long-term (starting a new political party, redistricting reform, ranked choice voting). We think many of those ideas are worthy goals, but they seem less likely to succeed than they are to require years to get done, fail, or (ironically) further divide the country.
Our plan is different.
The fastest and best way to turn the national mood from sour to sunny is a new team in the White House that is truly committed to bringing the country together, seeking two-party solutions as the norm, rather than the exception by, among other things, renouncing the use of the partisan reconciliation process to get big bills passed with the votes of only one party. We know two-party solutions are better public policy than partisan measures, more likely to improve the quality of life and economy for all Americans. And we know what we need is a tone that stands in sharp contrast to that endless cycles of revenge and recrimination that we have seen for far too long.
We hope that one or both of the major party candidates run on just such a platform, with just such an spirit. But if they do not, No Labels is building the infrastructure necessary to ensure that the country can have a third, very different — and very optimistic — choice for the White House.
And we hope that makes you happy.