hy people are unhappy is complicated. CNN’s latest polling asked Americans whether things in the country were going well or badly – and then, to explain in their own words, why they felt that way.
Among the 69% who said things were going either pretty or very badly, dim views of the nation’s economic conditions were a top driver. The smaller share who were more positive often cited their own, rosier takes on the economy.
Other factors that influenced Americans’ outlooks, whether positive or negative, included their views of the current occupant of the White House, opinions on social issues, conclusions drawn from their daily lives or a combination of disparate concerns. Their explanations help shed light on what respondents really mean when they answer the broad, state-of-the-nation questions frequently included on surveys.
Here’s a look at some common themes that emerged in our latest poll, as well as a sampling of responses from people across the country. Some answers have been lightly edited for length, grammar and clarity.
Views of the nation and the economy often go hand in hand. Asked to explain their view of how things are going in the US today, both 35% of those who said things were going well and 52% who said things were going badly mentioned economic factors.
Slightly over half of women, men, Whites, people of color, those younger than 45 and those 45 and older who said things were going badly all mentioned the economy when asked to explain why they felt that way.
But there were differences both along and within partisan lines among this pessimistic group.
A 58% majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents cited the economy as a reason for their discontent, with a smaller 42% of Democrats and Democratic leaners saying the same.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents younger than 45 were 11 points likelier than their older counterparts to cite an economic reason. Among Republicans, there was no difference by age in the share citing the economy.
Beyond general concerns about the economy, issues such as inflation and the cost of living hit home for many Americans who said the country was doing badly.
“Cost of living is way too high. Just seems like the economy is not doing very well, but it has been like this for years. Housing market is terrible, gas prices are terrible. Student loan debt is astronomical. Even though I agree students should pay their own loan, it shouldn’t be that expensive in the first place.” – Republican man, 29, from Pennsylvania
“A single mother cannot effectively support a household on one income. The price of everything is too high. Rent [is] outrageous while people trying to get a loan to buy a home is also unreachable to most.” – Republican woman, 30, from Iowa
“The economy is TERRIBLE. My cost of living is MUCH MUCH MUCH higher. Go to the grocery store and you will find out.” – Republican-leaning man, 71, from Illinois
By contrast, those in the positive camp largely focused on the availability of jobs and a perception that the economy was improving. Among this group, Americans in households making $50,000 or more annually were 19 percentage points more likely than those in lower-earning households to name economic factors as a reason to say things were going well, 44% to 25%.
“The economy is doing well. I’m unhappy with women losing bodily autonomy, and the creeping fascism from the right, but I believe Biden is doing an excellent job with the economy, the environment, and international relations.” – Democratic woman, 65, from North Dakota
“There are still changes that I hope will be made, but for the most part we’re heading in the right direction. There is food on the shelves at the grocery stores. There are jobs at slightly better pay than before the pandemic.” – Democratic woman, 52, from Michigan
“Unemployment is at a historic low, economy isn’t bad. Inflation is a sign that people have more money.” – Democratic-leaning man, 51, from Massachusetts