January 7, 2009

Gains Seen On Minority Discrimination – But Little Else

Americans Assess Progress on National Problems

Overview

As Barack Obama prepares to take office, majorities say the country is losing ground on any number of key issues, particularly economic ones. Nearly eight-in-ten (79%) say the country is falling further behind on the federal budget deficit, far more than said that during the mid-1990s when the deficit was a top-tier policy issue.

Fully 72% say the country is losing ground on the availability of good-paying jobs – up 25 points since February 2007. Nearly as many (69%) say the country is losing ground on the cost of living.

Notably, the only issue where most people see progress being achieved is no doubt related to Obama’s historic election: 53% say the country is making progress on discrimination against minorities, compared with just 15% who say the country is losing ground, and 28% who see little change. During the mid-1990s, far fewer people said progress was being achieved reducing discrimination (40% in 1995, 38% in 1994).

The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 3-7 among 1,489 adults reached on landline phones and cell phones, finds that Republicans and Democrats generally agree that the country is losing ground on the budget deficit and jobs. In addition, majorities of Democrats (59%) and Republicans (54%), as well as 62% of independents, say the country is losing ground in competing with other countries economically.

Yet there are wide partisan differences in views about a number of other issues, including the war in Iraq, the gap between rich and poor and poverty. Nearly four-in-ten Democrats (39%) say the country is losing ground on Iraq compared with just 8% of Republicans.

Seven-in-ten Democrats (70%) say the country is losing ground on the gap between rich and poor; just 42% of Republicans agree. Democrats also are far more likely than Republicans to see the country losing ground on poverty and homelessness.

By contrast, more than six-in-ten Republicans express pessimism about the country’s progress on illegal immigration (62% say we are losing ground) and on moral and ethical standards (68%). Fewer than half of Democrats say the country is losing ground in those areas (42% and 49%, respectively).

Mixed Views of Progress on International Issues

Most Republicans (62%) say the United States is making progress in Iraq, while 26% say things are about the same as they have been and just 8% say the United States is losing ground there. Democrats are more evenly divided, with 41% saying things are about the same, 39% saying the country is losing ground, and just 16% saying progress is being made.

Americans generally express less positive opinions about the war in Afghanistan than they do about the country’s involvement in Iraq. About one-in-five say the country is making progress on the war in Afghanistan (21%), just over four-in-ten say things are the same as they have been (42%), and 31% say the country is losing ground on the war in Afghanistan. Republicans, in particular, are much less optimistic about progress in Afghanistan than in Iraq: 37% say the country is making progress in Afghanistan, compared with 62% who say the same about the war in Iraq. Few Democrats see the country making progress in either conflict (16% Iraq, 10% Afghanistan).

When it comes to dealing with international terrorism, about half of Republicans think the country is making progress (49%), 30% think things are about the same as they have been, and just 20% say the country is losing ground. In contrast, 34% of Democrats say the country is losing ground on terrorism, 37% say things have not changed much, and about a quarter (26%) say the country is making progress.

More Signs of Economic Pessimism

Reflecting the public’s bleak overall assessment of the national economy, large majorities say the country is losing ground on every economic issue asked about. (For more on views of the economy, see “Psychology of Bad Times Fueling Consumer Cutbacks,” Dec. 11, 2008).

Nearly eight-in-ten Americans (79%) say the country is losing ground on the budget deficit; 72% offer the same view about the availability of good-paying jobs; and 69% say the country is losing ground on the cost of living. The proportion saying the country is losing ground on the deficit has increased 15 points since February 2007. Perceptions of job availability also have grown much more negative over that period.

There is no recent trend measure in views of whether the country is making progress or losing ground on the cost of living. Currently, 69% say the country is losing ground in that area, which is higher than during the mid-1990s (61% in 1995, 59% in 1994). Opinions about national progress on the gap between rich and poor have remained relatively stable since February 2007, and are comparable to those measured in 1989.

Americans also express negative views about the country’s ability to compete economically with other countries: 58% say the country is losing ground, while just 8% say it is making progress and 30% say the country’s ability to compete with other countries is about the same as it has been in the past. In March 1994, when Pew last asked about this item, 43% thought the country was losing ground when it came to its ability to compete internationally while about a quarter said it was either making progress (24%) or that things were about the same as they had been (26%).