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U.S. optimism near record low
Poll finds country pessimistic across age, gender lines

By Alan Fram
and Trevor Tompson

Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON — It’s gloomy out there. Men and women, whites and minorities — all are feeling a war-weary pessimism about the country seldom shared by so many people.

Only 25 percent of those surveyed say things in the U.S. are going in the right direction, according to an AP-Ipsos poll this month. That is about the lowest level of satisfaction detected since the survey started in December 2003.

Rarely have longer-running polls found such a rate since the even gloomier days of 1992 ahead of the first President Bush’s re-election loss to Democrat Bill Clinton.

The current glumness is widely blamed on public discontent with the war in Iraq and with President Bush. It is striking for how widespread the mood is among different groups of people.

Women and minorities are less content than men and whites, which has been true for years. But all four groups are at or near record lows for the AP-Ipsos poll, and at unusually low levels for older surveys, as well.

Ann Bailey, 69, a retired school secretary in Broken Arrow, Okla., is a conservative who believes the country is on the wrong track.

That sentiment should raise alarms for Republicans hoping to hold the White House and recapture Congress next year.

She cites a widespread lack of honesty plus immigration, gasoline prices and Iraq — where a son and grandson are serving.

“As much as I hate it, I think they need to finish up what they’re doing and get out of there,” said Bailey.

“I think we should step out and say, ‘OK, now you solve your problem. We’ve done the best we can do.’ ”

Larry Ward, a moderate Republican from Pocomoke, Md., also senses the U.S. is heading the wrong way.

“We’re still fighting a war we can’t win,” said Ward, 47, who operates a tree service. “That’s a real big thing for me.”

Few feeling positive

Three in 10 men and two in 10 women said this month they think the country is on the right track, down from nearly half of each who felt that way at the end of 2003.

By race, 28 percent of whites and 18 percent of minorities said the same — just over half their rates of optimism from late 2003.

Asked in April why they felt things were veering in the wrong direction, one-third overall volunteered the war as a reason and one-fourth blamed poor leadership.

Nine percent faulted the economy, 8 percent a loss of moral values and 5 percent gasoline prices.

“We need to get out of war, get our economy back up, quit spending money outside of America and bring it here,” said Democrat Lisa Pollard, 45, an insurance company analyst in Arlington, Texas.

“It all starts at the White House.”

When voter optimism hits such low levels, “It’s not being driven by any specific group. It’s a general kind of malaise that’s across the board,” Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said.

President Carter used the word “malaise” to describe a time of low national self-confidence in the late 1970s. He lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Republican Ronald Reagan.

Today’s numbers could bode ill for Republicans and are reflected in polls that show voters prefer the Democratic Party to the GOP — without naming specific candidates — to win the White House next year.

Early polling, though, shows specific front-running Republican hopefuls largely holding their own against top Democrats.

The mood prevailing in the polls is giving Democrats optimism about an election that is a long 18 months away.

“You connect the dots back to Bush. He’s done more to undermine their brand than we could have done spending millions of dollars,” said Cornell Belcher, who polls for Democrats. “I’d rather be us right now.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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