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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.
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hat 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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