The way we were in 2011

The sputtering economy left us feeling fed up and disengaged, but at least we could escape online.

How are we feeling?

Pretty pessimistic. In August, 73% of Americans said that the country was “on the wrong track,” the highest level in three years, and 47% thought the worst was yet to come in the economic crisis (Ipsos/Reuters). 95% are worried that the country will slip into another recession (IBOPE Zogby International), while 39% fear the U.S. economy is in permanent decline (CBS). 76% say the country’s economic structure favors the wealthy (The Wall Street Journal/NBC), and 48% think that while the American dream—work hard and you’ll get ahead—once held true, it doesn’t anymore (Public Religion Research Institute). That grim outlook may explain why belief in American Exceptionalism is waning: Only 49% of Americans now agree with the statement that “our culture is superior to others,” which 60% thought was true in 2002 (Pew Research).

Who’s to blame for this mess?

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30% say Wall Street is responsible for America’s economic ills, but many more—64%—point the finger at Big Government (USA Today/Gallup). 81% are dissatisfied with how the country is being governed, and 57% have little or no confidence that the federal government can solve America’s problems (Gallup). That doesn’t mean they don’t want Congress to try. 60% say Washington should attempt to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor, and 75% want millionaires to pay more in taxes (ABC/The Washington Post). But 53% also believe that government should be downsized (The Wall Street Journal/NBC). One thing most people can agree on is that they are tired of protesters: Only 35% have a positive view of Occupy Wall Street, while just 29% think well of the Tea Party (UMass Lowell/Boston Herald).

Is there anything we’re enthused about?

58% say Osama bin Laden’s death made them happy (The Washington Post/Pew Research Center), and 61% believe that the al Qaida leader is now in hell (CNN/Opinion Research Corp.). On a personal level, we’re surprisingly pleased with our bodies. Although more than 68% of Americans are overweight or obese (CDC), only 39% would call themselves “overweight,” and 56% described their weight as “about right” (Gallup).

How has society changed?

We’re increasingly tolerant. 86% approve of marriages between whites and blacks (Gallup), up from 4% in 1958. For the first time in seven years of tracking, a majority of Americans—53%—support making same-sex marriage legal, 56% consider gay or lesbian relationships morally acceptable (Gallup), and 59% supported the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (Zogby). 62% say it wouldn’t make a difference in their voting choice if a presidential candidate were gay, and 68% wouldn’t mind if a candidate were a Mormon. But 61% say they’d find it hard to vote for an atheist (Pew Research Center).

How do we enjoy ourselves?

More and more, we find pleasure online. On any given day, 58% go online for no other reason than to have fun or pass the time (Pew Research Center), and 37% turn to the Internet to help diagnose their illnesses (Marist Poll). 65% visit social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but 7% have gotten in trouble at school or work, and 7% think they’ve lost a potential job, because of a comment or picture they shared online (Harris Interactive). Nonetheless, 27% of men and 23% of women say they have been photographed nude, and 16% have used their cellphones for “sexting”—sending naked photos or erotic messages to a partner. The fun and games aren’t limited to partners, however: 31% of men and 26% of women admit to contacting an ex via Facebook or email. In a world where everyone is connected, trust doesn’t come easily: 41% of men and 47% of women have suspected their partners of cheating (Playboy/Harris Interactive).

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