Among the realities that will challenge President Obama in his second term is the diminished optimism and enthusiasm for his presidency and the future generally, which more Americans seem to fear rather than welcome. In another era, this lack of enthusiasm and a dispirited America could be called malaise.
I'll be the first to admit that I thought the lack of enthusiasm for President Obama would have hurt his chances in Election 2012. But perhaps what Obama lacked in enthusiasm, he made up for with brute force and a magnificently efficient turnout mechanism. Also, the cynical realists in the Obama campaign were right about how much lower turnout would be in 2012 vs. 2008. They were right when they guessed that 2-plus million Americans were so discouraged that they wouldn’t even bother to show up.
A recent poll gives a more precise measurement to the atmospherics that greet Obama two weeks before his inauguration, and a comparison with similar polls from 2008 quantifies what a difference four years makes.
Following Obama’s election in November 2008, 67 percent of Americans surveyed by USA Today/Gallup felt optimistic that his election would bring positive change for America. Today, the same survey shows that only 52 percent of Americans feel the same way about his reelection. That's a 15 point swing. When Obama was inaugurated in 2009, 79 percent of Americans expressed their optimism about what progress would be made in Obama’s first term, while only 16 percent expressed pessimism on this topic. And 75 percent of Americans focused on their expectation that the economy would get better over four years
Today, on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration for his second term, a USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 50 percent of Americans believe that “America’s best years are behind us.” As well, 43 percent of Americans express pessimism about what will happen in Obama’s second term, and 42 percent say that Obama’s policies will make their financial situations worse.
Our national psyche is changing: For example, Americans are now much more pessimistic about their children’s future. In a Gallup survey from March 2009, 40 percent believed that it was unlikely their children would enjoy a better living standard than their parents, but 59 percent still believed a better future was likely. Now, 50 percent believe that it is unlikely “today’s youth will have a better life than their parents” and just 47 percent think their children may still have a brighter future
Not all of this is Obama’s fault, but he does seem to be the right man for the times. If early indicators mean anything, Obama isn’t going to try any big moves or bold initiatives. He seems mired in smallness, petty politics and personal glory. At a time when we need a leader to pull us out of our funk, Obama seems to be an immune carrier of discouragement. I hope you take some of these poll numbers to heart and reverse course before its too late. Maybe it’s against his nature, but we need a president to challenge us to think and do big.