Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.
Like a decent chunk of American workers currently, I’ve been feeling the effects of burnout.
Of course, I can chalk up how I’m feeling to a number of self-imposed expectations and personal habits (or lack thereof), like taking on too many “side hustles” outside of my nine-to-five, or my own forgetfulness when it comes to making lunches during the work day, or working longer hours — as many remote employees are — because the news cycle is relentless and never-ending. I’m by no means the first person to acknowledge this, but being a political reporter is exhausting. And each week, at least for the last year or so, it seems the movie has been the same: Democrats want to pass legislation that has virtually no hope because of partisan polarization and the reality of Senate math, so it fails — or gets kicked down the line. To be clear, I believe the same would happen if the party roles were reversed, too.
But for the most part, I was under the impression that voters were OK with that reality. Survey after survey showed that Republican voters didn’t understand — or just didn’t like — Democrats, and vice-versa. But now there appear to be more voters like me out there: tired of the current state of divisiveness but pessimistic that the ongoing political rancor will subside anytime soon.
According to a September Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos poll, 72 percent of Americans thought it would be “good for the country” if there was less political hostility and if people focused more on common ground. But there’s little faith in that reality. Not only did 42 percent of Americans say that they believed political resentment would increase among ordinary Americans, but also many held “very unfavorable” feelings toward Republican voters (18 percent) and Democratic voters (13 percent). Some of this shouldn’t be too surprising. As FiveThirtyEight contributor Lee Drutman has written, deep-seated hatred and polarization have come to dominate politics as we know it today. What’s striking, though, is that even among all the political exhaustion, voters — myself included — aren’t hopeful it’ll get better anytime soon.
In fact, Americans were even less optimistic and more nervous about this new year than they were heading into 2021. A December Axios/Momentive poll found that 45 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of all U.S. adults were fearful for what awaited the world in 2022. (On the previous year’s survey, 19 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of all adults were fearful of what awaited the world in 2021.) And of those surveyed, politics remained top of mind. Seventeen percent cited “democracy” as the most important issue for them right now — second only to “jobs and the economy,” at 31 percent. Moreover, Biden’s presidency has also seemed to invoke feelings of exasperation and bitterness. A January Global Strategy Group/GBAO/Navigator Research survey found that a majority of Americans (52 percent) felt “frustrated” about politics since Biden’s election. The sentiment was particularly high among Republicans (78 percent), but independents (55 percent) and roughly one-quarter of Democrats (29 percent) felt the same.
But what is the end to this cynicism? In January, YouGov/McCourtney Institute released data showing that over half of Americans were “extremely worried” about where the country was going in the next year. Yet, among those hopeful for the future, politics played a key role; Democrats were often hopeful about their party holding power, and Republicans were often hopeful that their party would reclaim Congress in the midterms. That is, for all our weariness at the current state of affairs and our frustration with existing polarization, a lot of optimism still hinges on whether our party of choice is in power (and whether they’re doing what we want them to do).
I say this not to belittle voters, but because I want to better understand the impetus for these feelings. Considering that some research suggests your political affiliation can influence seemingly apolitical decisions and seep into other facets of life, my original hypothesis was that this January served as a reminder of the anniversary of Biden’s first year in office — especially given a number of failed campaign promises — which has sparked a lot of frustration and disappointment. And while that might be true, some research and polling also suggests that political burnout might also be chalked up to things outside of Biden’s control, like pandemic fatigue or personal stressors.
In fact, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that one-third of Americans (34 percent) said the COVID-19 pandemic had had an impact on their level of loneliness. Moreover, a September survey from MTV/Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that things like their fear of catching COVID-19 (29 percent) and their personal relationships (34 percent) were a “major source” of stress for American teens and adults. (Additionally, for adults in that survey, 42 percent said that their personal finances were a major source of stress.) And for Republicans, evidence shows that Trump supporters in particular are more likely to have limited social networks, which might contribute to reported feelings of stress and unease.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer on where to go from here. On top of our existing disappointment with the political system, there’s also polling suggesting that Americans with more moderate political views — on both sides of the aisle — are less engaged. Regarding the 2020 election, for example, the Pew Research Center found that Americans on the far-left and far-right were the most likely to vote, show support for a political candidate on social media and contribute money to politics. But that still leaves a good deal of groups toward the middle who were less inclined to follow day-to-day politics and a large chunk of Americans still don’t vote.
All of this, of course, might lead to the haunting sense that things will never get better — and maybe that’s a persistent feature of our politics now. But I suppose the least we could do now is show compassion to ourselves and others during these trying times. We’re living in what feels like an ongoing series of life-changing events, much of which is out of our control. So, at the risk of sounding cliché, just remember that things can — hopefully — go up from here.
Other polling bites
- Americans are increasingly worried that the pandemic is getting worse. A new poll from Gallup found that 58 percent believed the coronavirus situation in the U.S. was getting “a lot” or “a little” worse, compared with just 18 percent who said the same in October. But these trends have fluctuated greatly in the past. A year ago, for instance, the share of Americans who felt that the pandemic was improving surpassed the percentage who felt it was getting worse, per Gallup. That said, while case numbers have plateaued or even decreased in some areas of the country, the omnipresence of omicron has meant that the pandemic is more decentralized with hot spots everywhere.
- According to Gallup, Biden’s approval rating has dropped to a new low of 40 percent, down from 57 percent at the start of his presidency. Overall, Trump’s average first-year job approval was worse: 38 percent versus 49 percent for Biden. Biden’s support declined most dramatically among independents, at 28 points, but it also dropped by 16 points among Democrats. For Republicans — who had largely negative views of Biden’s presidency from the onset (his approval rating was only 11 percent then) — the decline was 6 points.
- Last June, 35 percent of Americans in an Economist/YouGov poll said they had a good idea of what critical race theory was, though 65 percent said they had heard at least a little about it. Now some 80 percent say they have heard of it, according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst poll. The poll didn’t ask people how they felt about critical race theory, but it did ask whether public schools should teach students about racial inequality. Roughly three-quarters of adults said it should be taught to some degree, although this varied heavily by political affiliation: 52 percent of Republicans said that public schools should not teach students about racial inequality at all, while only 4 percent of Democrats felt the same way.
- Americans are also divided over what should happen to statues and memorials dedicated to historical figures who enslaved people. According to a poll by YouGovAmerica, a plurality of Americans (42 percent) believe these memorials should remain in public places, though 36 percent believe they should be removed. That said, half of Americans said the government should stop building them, per another YouGovAmerica poll. However, 53 percent of Republicans opposed ending the building versus just 12 percent of Democrats.
- Though Democrats held an average 3-point edge over Republicans in Americans’ party ID for all of 2021 per Gallup, the pollster found a striking shift over the course of the year. Democrats had an average advantage of 9 points in the first quarter of 2021, but by the last quarter, the GOP held an average 5-point advantage — among the largest shifts measured for each party in any quarter since 1991, when Gallup began tracking party ID and party lean regularly. Technically, the share of Americans who identify as independent far outstrips the share who identify as Democrats or Republicans, but the share of true independents — those who don’t lean toward either party — remains very small, at an average of 9 percent as of the last quarter of 2021.
- Wordle’s popularity has exploded since the game debuted in October, with some 2 million people playing daily. The growth has come primarily from young adults — according to Morning Consult, 14 percent of American adults said they played the game, including 26 percent of millennials and 18 percent of Gen Zers. But Wordle’s popularity is still behind that of mobile games like Candy Crush, which 52 percent of adults in the U.S. said they played.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 41.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 53.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.5 points). At this time last week, 42.3 percent approved and 51.4 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -9.1 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 43.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.9 percent, for a net approval rating of -8.5 points.
In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Republicans currently lead by 1.6 percentage points (43.3 percent to 41.7 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 0.6 points (42.4 percent to 41.8 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 1.6 points (41.8 percent to 43.4 percent).