Other Factors Led to Decline in American Optimism

Aug 15, 2021 | Fleischaker/Greene

Matt Magolis and Mark Noonan write that Barack Obama is The Worst President in History. From the handout of the 200 reasons why he is the worst president, select two reasons to critique. Do you agree or disagree? Fully explain your answer.
There are many things to consider in reflecting on Margolis and Noonan’s point that there has been a Decline of American Optimism since President Obama has been in office. The Gallup Poll they referred to from January of 2013 does say, “fewer than four in 10 Americans (39%) rate the current status of the U.S. at the positive end of a zero to 10 scale.” (Newport, 2014) However, there was a key difference in how people responded to the survey. In general, Democrats were much more positive about the current state of the country at the time (56 percent) compared to only 20 percent of Republicans who felt the same way.

I do not necessarily agree with the assessment that Margolis and Noonan made. One reason I don’t agree with it is because of the strong partisan divide in the responses to the survey question they use as a key piece of evidence for their argument. Gallup did not break down the 39% of people who rated the status of the country on the lower end of the positivity scale. Therefore it is difficult to see if there was a partisan split with more people of one party affiliation rating the country negatively in higher numbers than another party. However, one point to make is that Republicans surveyed were more likely than any other group to say they viewed the country 5 years before 2013 more positively than then, which would go back to when President George W. Bush was in office. On the other hand, more Democrats had a positive view of what the country would like look 5 years in the future. This is important to point out because Donald Trump’s campaign theme “Make American Great Again” brought people out in support of returning the country to the way it was before President Obama essentially. This somewhat coincides with the Republican opinion in this survey that they believed the country was better off in the past. I think the increased number of people who did not view the country on a positive scale is a good argument to show a decline in optimism, but we have to take into account the partisan divide that may exist in this data. If it was a majority of Republicans, for example, who felt this way, we can’t really say that is representative of people in this country as a whole.

Another reason I do not agree with this assessment is because they do not necessarily consider what was happening in society when the survey was taken. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was at its highest in October of 2009 when it was 10% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This number had only dropped to about 8% when the Gallup Poll survey was taken in January of 2013. We were still in the thick of the recession despite improvements in the unemployment rate, which I think may have contributed to this less positive view of the country. Therefore it is difficult to say optimism declined in the United States under President Obama when the survey that is evidence of this argument was taken in a time when we were experiencing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Many people had lost their jobs and did not know how they were going to take care of their families, which in some ways explains this more negative view of the country.

In 2012 specifically, there were many instances of mass shootings that rocked the nation including the one that took the lives of students at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th. A USA Today article from the end of 2012 that cited Associated Press rankings of news stories that year found that, mass shootings throughout the country were the news stories that gained the most attention for the year (top news stories). A Washington Post article that documented the mass shootings in the country for 2012 found that the Colorado movie theater shooting and Sandy Hook were “two of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history”. (2012) The fact that Sandy Hook occurred about a month before the Gallup Poll survey was taken and the controversy of how to prevent further mass shootings that we still haven’t found a solution for could have also influenced the statistics. People may not have a positive view about the way the country is going if they feel like they aren’t safe from harm in an elementary school or a movie theater.

Overall I do not agree with this assessment that Margolis and Noonan made. As mentioned above, my main disagreement with them is that they took a statistic from the Gallup Poll conducted in January 2013 and used that one poll as evidence for why President Obama’s administration has led to a decline in American Optimism. They don’t take into account national events at the time that may have influenced these numbers or the partisan element of the poll results. A person can’t say that there has been a decline in American Optimism in general if the only people who seem to share that sentiment are affiliated with the party that is not the same as the current president. We often say that there are few cases where you can say one thing caused another especially when it comes to statistics about the government and our politicians. Margolis and Noonan can’t say that President Obama specifically is responsible for the decline of American Optimism because of a survey taken at the beginning of his second term. They have to consider the other factors that may have influenced the responses the Gallup Poll besides simply President Obama being in office. It is bad practice to attribute a general trend or idea to one cause and that is what they have done in this assessment.

–Jocelyn Porter



Newport, F. (2013 January 21). Americans downbeat on state of U.S., prospects for future. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/160046/americans-downbeat-state-prospects-future.aspx

N.A. (2012 December 2012). Poll ranks top 10 news stories of 2012. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2012/12/20/year-top-news/1783303/

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016 November 26). Labor force statistics from the current population survey. Retrieved from http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

U.S. Mass Shootings in 2012. (2012 December 14). [Graphic illustration of all of the mass shootings for the year.] The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/nation/us-mass-shootings-2012/

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