Americans Think The Country Has Gone Downhill, But They're Pretty Happy With Their Own Lives

Views of the past eight years are rosiest close to home.

Americans largely think the country has headed in the wrong direction during the past eight years, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, but most also feel that their own lives have improved over that period of time.

Thirty-six percent of all Americans think things in the U.S. have generally gotten better over the past eight years, according to the poll, while 52 percent say things are on the wrong track.

The apparent national pessimism suggested by questions like this isn’t exactly new. According to a database of surveys maintained by the Roper Center, pollsters first asked about the nation’s direction in 1971, when they found that 63 percent of all Americans believed that things in the country had “pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.” Since then, the public has stayed more or less glum, making it difficult to pinpoint any specific causes for the disaffection.

“[C]an the ‘wrong track’ indicator tell us anything useful about the country as a whole?” Scott Clement, the Washington Post’s polling manager, wrote in October. “Or is it just an inkblot test that allows individuals — pundits and poll respondents — to read into it whatever they want?”

To dig a little deeper, the HuffPost/YouGov survey also asked respondents to rate the direction things have taken in national politics ― presumably the topic many people are thinking about while answering the question ― but also the direction of their state, community, and their own well-being.

As the results show, Americans may be unhappy with Washington, but they’re more content with things that are closer to home. Americans say by a 33-point margin that national politics have been headed off on the wrong track for the past eight years, and by a smaller 7-point margin that things in their state have gone off-track as well. But they also say by a 13-point margin that things have generally been going right in their community, and by a 27-point margin that things are going right in their own lives.

Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton take an overall rosier view of the past eight years than those who voted for Donald Trump.  (The survey didn’t explicitly equate “the last eight years” with “President Barack Obama’s tenure in office” ― if it had, results would likely have been even more politicized.)

But while supporters of the two candidates are understandably far apart in their opinions of national politics, they’re relatively less divided on other measures.

Clinton voters were 47 points likelier than Trump voters to say things in national politics were generally headed in the right direction over the past eight years. They were 23 points likelier than Trump voters to say the same about things in their state, and 24 points likelier about both their community and their own lives.

The divide along income level, in contrast, is more pronounced at the local level. People who live in households making $100,000 or more annually are 10 points likelier than those making less than $50,000 to say national politics have gone in the right direction, but 21 points likelier to see things in their communities and their own lives as having improved.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of HuffPost/YouGov’s survey. You can select survey questions using the menu at the top, and filter data by subgroups using the buttons at the bottom:  

For better or worse, most Americans expect things to change in the next four years. Sixty-six percent of those who think the country as a whole was previously headed in the right direction overall now expect it to veer off on the wrong track, while 53 percent who think it’s been off-track expect things to get back on course.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Dec. 10-12 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found hereMore details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.