The United States is stuck on the ‘wrong track’


(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

The 16-day government shutdown last October was arguably the darkest moment for this -- or any recent -- Congress. And the American people responded as one would expect, sending Congress's approval rating through the floor and taking a particularly dim view of the country's future.

Today, we're back in about the same spot.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this week showed 71 percent of Americans think the country is "off on the wrong track." That's one point higher than just after the October shutdown and the highest since the early days of the recession.

A new AP-GfK poll shows a similar percentage -- 72 percent -- say the country is "on the wrong track." This pollster actually surveyed Americans during the shutdown (perhaps when distaste was a little higher) and found things just a little grimmer back then: 76 percent said the country was on the wrong track. Still, 72 percent is the highest non-shutdown number in years.

And finally, a CBS News/New York Times poll released Wednesday showed 67 percent said things were on the wrong track -- the highest since the shutdown and just five points below the October 2013 basement.

Here's how that looks:

WrongTrack

These aren't the only measures that are close to shutdown-level polling. Disapproval of Congress is actually higher than post-shutdown in the AP-GfK poll (86 percent versus 83 percent). The other polls show Congress in slightly better stead than 10 months ago. But when you're talking about approval of Congress these days, it's very bad versus slightly worse.

In addition, the NBC-WSJ poll showed about three-fourths of Americans (76 percent) said they aren't confident their children will be better off than they are. And 57 percent of people say they're mad enough about something to protest.

The reason? Well, that's not so clear. The economy has shown some signs of improvement over the past several months, so one might expect the pessimism to ease up. But a jumble of tough news overseas -- the latest being President Obama's announcement Thursday night authorizing military strikes in Iraq if Americans are in danger -- and the recent border crisis appear to be moving the American people back into a state of malaise.

Precisely what that means for the 2014 election is open to interpretation, but anybody looking for a predictable outcome had better take notice.

The American people are increasingly uneasy about what's happening in their country. And when that happens, they become anxious to do something about it.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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