Sunday, December 11 , 2016, 6:13 am | Overcast 58º

 
 
 
 

Mark Shields: Troubling New Poll Shows American Optimism on Life Support

A long time ago, maybe in the first Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, my precinct committeewoman taught me the unchanging rules of how to respond to public opinion polls. If the polls show your candidate trailing badly, then simply attack polls and anyone who blindly follows them: “I will always be grateful, as an American, that at Valley Forge, Gen. George Washington did not take any polls. If he had, you and I would still be bowing and curtseying before everyone in the British royal family.”

But if the polls instead show your side with a big lead, just acknowledge, with humility, the results: “A poll, of course, is nothing more than a snapshot in time. These numbers, while encouraging, will just make us work harder to earn the support of the hardworking Americans we seek to serve.” You know the drill.

But once in awhile, a poll appears for which the rehearsed rebuttals do not work and to which one must pay attention. That brings us directly to the August NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. True, we have seen similar numbers before: Americans give failing grades to Congress, both political parties (yes, Republicans worse than Democrats), President Barack Obama and Wall Street. Not much new there.

But the real casualty in this respected survey conducted by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff is not any politician or profession; it is that American optimism is now on life support.

Think about it. We are Americans who grew up believing there would be a happy ending, that the underdog — for whom Americans almost invariably root — could topple the bigger, stronger opponent. If you remove optimism from the American DNA, then the United States becomes little more than a continental Belgium. No disrespect intended to anyone from Brussels, but there are not people at this moment working, saving, dreaming, scheming and praying on how to get to Belgium.

The poll asked people which of the following statements comes closer to their view: “The United States is a country where anyone, regardless of their background, can work hard, succeed and be comfortable financially” or “The widening gap between the incomes of the wealthy and everyone else is undermining the idea that every American has the opportunity to move up to a better standard of living.” A majority (54 percent) — including 61 percent of American women — chose the “widening gap undermining opportunity” answer, and just 44 percent of all voters and 34 percent of independents picked the “anyone can succeed” option.

“Do you feel confident that life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us?” More than three out of four of us — 76 percent — predict a less bright future for our children. More than seven out of 10 say the recession had an impact on them either “a lot” or “some.” And for 40 percent — which represents approximately 126 million Americans — someone in their household lost a job in the last five years. The Great Recession may be over, according to economists’ graphs, but for too many of our neighbors, it remains an open wound.

When we are optimistic, we are more generous in our public policy. If the economic pie is going to get bigger, then we welcome more to the table to share. This was the case in the 1960s, when Americans, during a decade when the United States’ gross domestic product doubled, had the courage and the confidence to correct the nation’s original sin of racial segregation. During the 21st century, when Americans’ median household income has continued to decline, we have failed on immigration.

Without optimism and the confidence and courage that it inspires, the United States would be, sadly, a much different and less special place.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >