Should we be surprised that Americans are so optimistic about their own personal circumstances, but comparably gloomy about the country?
A USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll this month asked Americans if they thought things would get better or worse in their own lives in 2020. By an overwhelming 80% to 11%, they predicted their lives would be better. That optimism stretched across demographic lines, although men had a more positive outlook than women (83% versus 76%) and Southerners a more positive outlook than Midwesterners (84% versus 74%).
But asked about the nation as a whole, optimism was more tempered and attitudes more divided by partisanship. By a wide 72% to 16%, Republicans expected things to get better in the United States. By double digits, 54% to 37%, Democrats said things would get worse. Overall, 54% predicted better times, while 34% predicted worse. Twelve percent weren’t sure.
Americans probably have more faith in themselves to solve problems in their own lives and communities than they do in the government and elected leaders to solve problems that are nationwide. Or perhaps many people feel that the problems of the country don’t really touch their lives on a personal level.
And it’s hard to blame Americans for feeling wary about the future of the country; we seem too divided to unite on many potential solutions. One large chunk of Americans is outraged and appalled at everything the president does, another large chunk is outraged and appalled by everyone opposing the president, another chunk is repelled by both sides . . . and a significant number of Americans are barely paying attention to it all.
Then again, maybe our government is little less dysfunctional than the headlines would suggest.
We’re in an era of partisan warfare with an ongoing impeachment process, but Congress and the president also found time to agree on creating a new Space Force branch of the U.S. military; enacted a new benefit of up to twelve weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers; and repealed Obamacare’s taxes on medical devices, high-cost employer-provided insurance plans, and an annual fee on insurance providers. Congress and the president avoided a government shutdown by agreeing to spend another $1.375 billion on border barrier construction. The House passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, where the Senate is expected to take it up after impeachment. Congress and the president agreed to increase funding for the Department of Defense by another $22 billion, increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs by 9 percent, raise the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, and allocated $425 million in election security grants.
You may love those ideas or hate those ideas, but they do not point to a federal government paralyzed by partisan stalemate.