James Monroe had the third eight-year presidency in a row, a period called “the era of good feelings” for its lack of partisan rancor. We are now finishing another string of three back-to-back eight-year presidencies, but Barack Obama’s America is experiencing something closer to an era of bad feelings.
Gallup in early March asked Americans whether they were “satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time.” The nays had it, 73 to 25. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken at the same time asked whether “things in the nation are generally headed in the right direction” or “are off on the wrong track.” Results: 65 percent for tracking wrongward, 26 percent rightly headed. Pew put the question in terms that often bring out American optimism: “Do you think the country’s best years are ahead of us or behind us?” It was a closer call, but nostalgia beat hope 49–44.