Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Gallup: Life got better for pretty much everyone under Obama

By Christopher Ingraham

August 31, 2016 at 11:02 AM

President Obama golfs his way to a better life on Martha's Vineyard. (Steven Senne/AP)

How Americans feel about the state of their lives have improved markedly in the eight years since Barack Obama was elected president, according to Gallup data released Tuesday.

In 2008, fewer than half of Americans said their life was good enough to be considered "thriving," according to Gallup. But that's changed: "The 55.4% who are thriving so far in 2016 is on pace to be the highest recorded in the nine years Gallup and Healthways have tracked it," according to the report.

Gallup

Not only that, members of each ethnic or racial group in Gallup's study feel better about their lives.

"The percentages of U.S. whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians who are thriving have all increased during the Obama era," Gallup notes. The percentage of blacks thriving has risen by about 6 points, as has the percentage of whites and Hispanics. Asian thriving has risen by about 10 points since 2008.

Gallup

Gallup measures "thriving" according to how poll respondents rate both their current lives and their expectations for life in the future. On a scale of zero to 10, "those who rate their present life a 7 or higher and their life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently made a much-criticized pitch to black voters, asking them "what do you have to lose" by voting for Trump over Hillary. This has prompted a number of black voters to respond with what, exactly, they'd be worried about losing in a Trump presidency, from civil rights to recent gains in employment, income and education.

The Gallup numbers, showing improving self-assessments of blacks' quality of life, reflect this. They also show that, contrary to some perceptions that white Americans have been losing out, Obama-era gains aren't limited to just one racial or ethnic group. Gallup notes that Obama's second term "shows an improvement in whites' life evaluations — particularly those of white Republicans." In a previous 2013-2015 Gallup survey, about 55 percent of white Republicans were thriving, up from 51 percent in the 2011-2012 survey.

Of course, no president has the power to wave a magic wand and make peoples' lives better. This measure is likely an indicator of the variety of factors influencing people's lives that presidents have limited control over — the economy chief among them. In 2008, for instance, the country was in the midst of the Great Recession. An increase in the percentage of people calling themselves thriving since then is hardly surprising. Certainly, economic policies have been central to Obama's administration, including the 2009 stimulus package and the $80 billion auto-industry bailout. But his supporters and detractors disagree on the extent to which those policies helped pull the country out of the recession. Factors largely out of his control, like the Federal Reserve's lowering of interest rates and the U.S. energy boom that cut fuel prices — arguably played even bigger roles.

Either way, the Gallup numbers suggest that for many Americans, fewer things today need fixing than they did eight years ago.

More from Wonkblog:

What people around the world mean when they say they're happy

Why smart people are better off with fewer friends

Many parents will say kids made them happier. They're probably lying.


Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

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