US Economy

Americans 'cranky, unhappy' about politics: Poll

Mark Murray

Two words sum up the nation's mood in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll—fed up.

Six in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy; more than 70 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction; and nearly 80 percent are down on the country's political system.

"We're in the summer of our discontent," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "Americans are cranky, unhappy… It is with everything going on the world."

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That frustration carries over to the nation's political leaders, with President Barack Obama's overall approval rating hitting a new low at 40 percent, and with a mere 14 percent of the public giving Congress a thumbs up.

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Yet because this discontent differs—among Democrats, Republicans, and independents—Hart cautions that you're unlikely to see Americans storming the polls on Election Day in November.

"We're unhappy, but we aren't coalescing around an issue," he said.

Indeed, 57 percent of respondents told pollsters that something upsets them enough to carry a protest sign for a day.

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Some of the different examples of signs they'd carry:

  • "Impeach Obama," said a female Republican from Ohio.
  • "Republicans and Congress, do your job," countered a male Democrat from Kentucky.
  • "Close the borders," added a Republican-leaning female from Massachusetts.
  • "Stop bombing people in Ukraine and Gaza and Israel," said a male Democrat from Texas.
  • "Our government needs an overhaul," said a female independent from Florida.

The discontent's two main causes

Pres. Obama: Congress costing America business & jobs

The NBC/WSJ pollsters attribute the wide discontent to the lingering effects of the Great Recession, as well as a loss of faith in the country's politicians.

Even though the recession ended years ago and even though the U.S. economy has created 200,000-plus jobs over the past six months, a plurality of Americans—49 percent—believe the economy is still in a recession. (However, that percentage is the lowest it's been since the Great Recession began, and 50 percent of respondents believe the economy is improving.)

What's more, a combined 71 percent say the recession personally impacted them "a lot" or "just some," and 64 percent say it's still having an effect on them.

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Then there are these numbers in the poll:

  • 40 percent say someone in their household lost a job in the past five years;
  • 27 percent say they have more than $5,000 in student-loan debt for either themselves or their children;
  • 20 percent have more than $2,000 in credit card debt they are unable to pay off month to month;
  • 17 percent say they have a parent or a child over 21 years old living with them for financial or health reasons.

"People are continuing to tell us what ways [the Great Recession] is still impacting them today," said GOP pollster Bill McInturff. "Those stories are pretty grim."

There's also the public's anger at Washington. A whopping 79 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the U.S. political system, including nearly half who are very dissatisfied.

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In addition, 71 percent of Americans believe the economic problems facing the country are due to the inability of elected officials in Washington to get things done to improve the economy.

By comparison, just 23 percent think the problems are due to deep and longstanding issues with the economy.

"The public seems have moved beyond the plaintive cry of 'Feel our pain!' to the more angry pronouncement of 'You are causing our pain!'" said Democratic pollster Fred Yang of Hart Research.

Bad numbers for Obama, even worse for Congress and Republicans

As for the politicians measured in the NBC/WSJ poll, President Obama's overall job rating stands at an all-time low of 40 percent, a one-point drop from June.

That decline comes from slightly lower support from Democrats and African-American respondents.

Forty-two percent approve of the president's handling of the economy, while only 36 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy.

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And Obama's favorable/unfavorable rating remains upside down at 40 percent positive, 47 percent negative.

But if the president's numbers are bad, Congress' are even worse.

Only 14 percent approve of the job Congress is doing – the seventh-straight NBC/WSJ poll dating back to 2011 when this rating has been below 15 percent.

In addition, Americans hold congressional Republicans in lower regard (19 percent favorable, 54 percent unfavorable) than congressional Democrats (31 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable).

Midterm forecast: A good—but maybe not great—year for Republicans

With the midterm elections less than three months away, the NBC/WSJ poll finds 44 percent of voters preferring a GOP-controlled Congress, and 43 percent preferring a Democratic-controlled one.

The good news for Republicans, according to GOP pollster McInturff: An incumbent president in the low 40s and seven-in-10 Americans thinking the country is on the wrong track is typically good for the opposition party.

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The not-so good news for the GOP: High interest in the elections is down from past midterm elections. And Republicans continue to trail among women by double digits.

November, McInturff says, is shaping up to be "a good Republican cycle, but not like the wave elections we saw in '06 or '10."

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted July 30-Aug. 3 of 1,000adults, including 350 cell phone-only respondents and another 43 reached bycell (but who also have a landline). The survey's overall margin of error isplus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

— By Mark Murray, NBC News