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Poll watch: The way we were in 2008
We’re very worried about our personal finances and the state of the world, but we’re optimistic that the ‘change’ we seek could actually happen.
 

What do we believe in?
Change. 34% of Americans say electing the first black president made them “more proud” to be American; only 12% say they were “less proud” (The Wall Street Journal/NBC). 71% say they are optimistic about Obama’s presidency, including 50% of people who voted against him (CBS News). 65% say the country will be better off in four years than it is now, and 67% see Obama’s election as a sign that America’s racial problems will eventually be worked out (Gallup). The historic election may have opened other doors as well: 60% of Americans say they would support an openly gay candidate for president (Zogby). 47% say that America’s best days lie ahead, compared with 37% who say the nation is past its prime (Rasmussen).

Are we upbeat about everything?
Not by a long shot. 76% of Americans say the country is “headed down the wrong track.” (Rasmussen). 83% feel that “the people in Washington are out of touch with the rest of the country.” If they could, 59% of Americans would throw out every member of Congress and start over. Only 37% of Americans are confident that Iraq will ever have a stable, “reasonably democratic” government. 59% of Americans say a homeland terrorist attack is at least “somewhat likely” in the next year (Rasmussen). As for foreign threats, Americans name Iran as the top U.S. enemy, and they consider China a bigger threat than North Korea (Gallup).

What is our biggest concern?
Far and away, the economy. 68% of Americans say improving the economy must be Washington’s top priority; last year’s top issue, Iraq, was only cited this year by 31%. 58% say their financial condition is worse than a year ago, and 33% expect it to be worse in six months. 47% are so stressed out that they have trouble sleeping (Harris). 40% are having trouble paying for prescription drugs (Rasmussen). 60% of Americans say a deep depression, with massive unemployment and widespread bank failures, is “likely” or “somewhat likely” (CNN/Opinion Research Corp.).

What keeps us going?
For most of us, faith—though our belief in God varies according to region. 86% of people who live in the South say they believe in the Almighty, compared with 80% in the East and 59% in the West (Gallup). 55% believe they have been protected from harm by a “guardian angel” (Baylor Religion Survey). 83% of Americans are “generally happy” with their lives, though we have less leisure time than ever—16 hours a week, down from 20 last year. We still find time to read—a favorite activity of 30%, ahead of watching TV (24%) and spending time with our children (17%). 92% have “positive relationships” with their families (Harris).

What’s changed most in our lives?
Technology. 81% of American adults now use the Internet. 89% have mobile phones, while 14% have given up their land lines altogether. 66% have sought health information online (Harris), and 48% say the Internet is now their primary source of news and information, up from 40% a year ago (Zogby). 47% of adults say modern communication has improved bonds with their families (Pew Internet Life Project). But we also wouldn’t mind getting away. With private companies beginning to pre-sell tickets for spaceflights, 39% of Americans say they’d go if they had a chance. But the average price people are willing to pay for a ticket is $2,000—about $198,000 less than the asking price (ABC News).

 

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