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Poll Finds Americans Pessimistic, Dissatisfied with Washington


CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Americans are frustrated with nearly everyone in Washington - including President Obama, Congress, and the Democratic and Republican parties - and have become increasingly pessimistic about what the future holds, according to a new CBS News poll.

Seven in ten Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in Washington, including 22 percent who say they are "angry" about the situation. Just 15 percent overall approve of the job being done by Congress.

Opinions of both parties, meanwhile, are at or near historic lows: 55 percent of those surveyed hold unfavorable views of Republicans, and 54 percent hold unfavorable views of Democrats.

The president's job approval rating has fallen to 47 percent, and, perhaps more crucially, Americans no longer say he shares their priorities for the country.

The percentage that says Mr. Obama shares their priorities has fallen to 45 percent, a drop of 13 points from October. The percentage who says he does not has risen to 47 percent, up from 38 percent seven months ago.

The discontentment is tied to widespread dissatisfaction with Washington economic policy. Just 13 percent say Mr. Obama's economic programs, among them the massive economic stimulus package, have helped them personally. Eighteen percent say they have hurt, while two in three say there has been no effect.

Fifty-nine percent say Wall Street has undue influence in Washington, and a majority says the stock market unfairly benefits the rich; most oppose the government bailouts for banks and automakers, though they back support for struggling homeowners. Eight in ten say the economy is in bad shape.

Looking ahead, one in two Americans say that life for the next generation will be worse than it is now, up from 32 percent last March. Just one in five expects it to be better.

More from the poll:

Poll: 70% Say BP Handling Oil Spill Badly
Poll: Most Americans Still Unfamiliar with Elena Kagan
Poll: Most Still Support Arizona Immigration Law
Poll: Support for Health Care Reforms Increases
Poll: Public Opinion of Democratic Party at All-Time Low

Views of Washington:

Twenty-eight percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the way things are going in Washington - including less than one in ten Republicans. More than one in three Republicans say they are angry at Washington.

Among the 22 percent of Americans who describe themselves as angry, the top reasons given were not representing the people (17 percent), partisan politics (14 percent), unemployment and the economy (11 percent), and government spending (10 percent).

In an illustration that the frustration crosses party lines, both Republicans and Democrats are viewed negatively by a majority of Americans. Democrats' unfavorable rating has risen 22 points since last year at this time, from 32 percent to 54 percent. Their favorable rating has fallen from 57 percent to 37 percent, an all time low in CBS News polling.

Perceptions of Republicans have actually improved, but that's not saying much: just 33 percent have a favorable view of the party (up from 28 percent a year ago) while 55 percent have an unfavorable view.

Sixty-one percent overall say the county is on the wrong track - up from 48 percent at this time last year. That is nonetheless an improvement over the end of the presidency of George W. Bush, when nearly nine in ten said the country was on the wrong track.

Just 32 percent say America is on the right track.

Americans are split, essentially along party lines, on whether and what kind of change Mr. Obama has brought to the country. Thirty-eight percent overall say he has made the country better, while 32 percent say he has made it worse. Twenty-four percent say he has not brought change.

Forty-eight percent trust the president to make the right decisions for the country. Forty-nine percent do not.

Mr. Obama's overall approval rating is 47 percent. Forty-three percent disapprove of his job performance. That's a drop from his recent high of 51 percent, though it still bests his recent low of 44 percent.

The president receives the best marks on the issues of terrorism and Afghanistan and the lowest marks on the economy and health care.

Seventy-seven percent now disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job - the highest ever in a CBS News poll. Dissatisfaction is shared by Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Following historical precedent, Americans are more positive about their own member of Congress. But they are far from enthusiastic. Just but 47 percent approve of the job their member of Congress is doing, while 39 percent disapprove - the highest disapproval figure since the question was first asked more than 30 years ago.

Less than one in ten Americans say most members of Congress deserve reelection.

The Economy and Issues of Fairness:


Only one in five Americans say the national economy is doing well, while 79 percent say it is in bad shape. While those figures reflect widespread pessimism, Americans are actually more positive than they were throughout 2009.

Thirty percent say the national economy is getting better, while 28 percent say it is getting worse. The remaining 42 percent see no change either way. Just 18 percent say their local economy is improving.

Asked if the government should have given assistance to banks, most Americans (67 percent) say no; just 27 percent support the bank bailout. They also oppose assistance for U.S. automakers, with 33 percent saying it was the right thing to do and 61 percent saying it was a mistake.

Americans are more supportive of help for struggling homeowners: 56 percent say the government should have helped them, while 36 percent say it should not have done so.

There was one piece of good news for the economy in the poll: Americans are now less concerned about losing their job than they were last month. Twenty-eight percent are "very concerned," down from 34 percent in April; another 26 percent are somewhat concerned.

Nearly seven in ten Americans say their household finances are currently good - but nearly the same percentage are at least somewhat concerned about their finances in the upcoming year.

Only one in five expect the next generation will have it better than they do - while 50 percent say it will be worse for them. Twenty-five percent expect things to essentially remain the same.

Yet most expect the future to go well for them personally. Sixty percent of Americans believe they will achieve most of their hopes and dreams eventually, and another 28 percent say they have already achieved most of them. Just one in ten believe they will never achieve most of their hopes and dreams.

On The Issues:

  • Seventy percent disapprove of BP's handling of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Forty-five percent disapprove of the Obama administration's handling of the situation. Americans are split on whether they support increased offshore drilling or if the risks are too great.
  • With the financial reform bill working its way through Congress, most Americans say they support increased banking regulations. Fifty-three percent say regulations should be increased, while 37 percent say they should not. Republicans oppose more regulations.
  • Most Americans - 72 percent - say they haven't heard enough to form an opinion or are undecided on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Sixteen percent hold a favorable view, and 11 percent an unfavorable view.
  • Fifty-six percent of Americans see illegal immigration as a "very serious problem," the same percentage that said as much in 2007. Twenty-eight percent say it is a somewhat serious problem, and 14 percent don't see it as a serious problem.
  • More than half - 52 percent - say the controversial Arizona immigration law is about right. Twenty-eight percent say it goes too far, and 17 percent say it doesn't go far enough.
  • There has been an increase in support for the health care reform bill: 43 percent now approve of the bill, up from 32 percent in March. Forty-seven percent still disapprove, however, and just 16 percent expect reforms to help them personally. Approval has risen among Democrats and independents.
  • Nineteen percent say a terrorist attack in the next few months is very likely, and 41 percent say it is somewhat likely. Thirty-six percent see it as unlikely. Americans have gradually become less inclined to say Americans need to give up some personal freedoms to keep the country safe from terrorism since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, though 57 percent still say Americans need to do so.
  • A majority of Americans say the war in Iraq is going at least somewhat well for the United States. Nearly one in two say the war in Afghanistan is going at least somewhat badly.
  • Americans are split on the Tea Party movement: 22 percent have a favorable view, 20 percent have an unfavorable view, 21 percent are undecided, and 36 percent haven't heard enough.
  • One in five Americans call themselves supporters of the movement, few of them Democrats. Just 11 percent of this group approves of the president's job performance, only 6 percent approve of Congress' job performance, and more than half say they are angry at Washington.

Read the Complete Poll

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1054 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone May 20-24, 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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