A new CNN/ORC poll attempting to measure the mood of the country found a six-year high in the month of April, with 50% of responders saying the country is doing “very” or “pretty well.”
Accordingly, 50% said the opposite.
“The number continues an upward pattern since the summer of last year, when only 35% were optimistic about the country’s conditions,” explained CNN polling director Keating Holland. Optimism peaked at 57% in January, 2007, before plummeting to just 16% in November of 2008.
Finding an explanation for the cheeriness is tough to pinpoint, especially following a mediocre jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing just 88,000 new jobs added during the month of March (the lowest monthly gain since last June). Unemployment slipped only slightly to 7.6%, down from 7.9% at the beginning of the year, and from 10% in October of 2009. This is due in part from 500,000 people dropping out of the active labor market — a 0.2% decrease in the active civilian labor force.
The broader economic reality may help explain conflicting data coming from the often-cited Legatum Prosperity Index, which attempts to holistically measure prosperity and happiness across eight different categories: economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety & security, personal freedom, and social capital.
Of the 142 countries the group measured in 2012 (96% of the global population), the United States ranked just twelfth on the list. Norway, Denmark, and Sweden (all Scandinavian countries) led the pack in the top three spots, respectively.
Competitive Americans can take some pride in beating out the United Kingdom (13th), Germany (14th), France (21st), Japan (22nd) and China (55th).
“Even within the realm of economic health, broader measures can illuminate the drivers of change and serve as leading indicators,” explained Nathan Gamester, project director for the index. “Take, for example, citizens’ perceptions of job markets. In India and China, the percentages of citizens who think that it is a good time to find a job is 40% and 36%, respectively. In the U.S. and U.K., those percentages are, respectively 26% and 12%.”
So, are we really happier — could Americans have found solace with a glass-half-full economic perspective? Or is the 50/50 optimism just another indicator of the ways that partisanship affects our national outlook? Feel free to weigh in below.