Often, 2015 felt like the year of outrage. The reasons for this were large and small — from police brutality to all manners of microaggressions, from terrorism to the color of a coffee cup. Americans of every race, economic background and political leaning seemed to share a common gift: the ability to get angry.
These fiery sentiments were measured by NBC, Survey Monkey and Esquire over the course of four days in November, in an online poll of 3,257 American adults aptly called the “American Rage Survey.”
Now the results are in, and they reveal a landscape of national anger as layered as the population itself. Americans are angry about a lot of things, apparently, and sometimes even about the same things.
“We, The People are pissed,” Esquire editors declared Sunday. “The body politic is burning up. And the anger that courses through our headlines and news feeds — about injustice and inequality, about marginalization and disenfranchisement, about what they are doing to us — shows no signs of abating.”
The survey found that half of all Americans say they are angrier today than they were a year ago. Among the groups polled, white Americans and Republicans are the angriest of all.
For the purposes of quantification, the survey “measured and compared anger primarily according to the frequency with which respondents report hearing or reading something that makes them angry.” It did not, therefore, account for the intensity of each bout of rage. (More on the methodology can be found here.)
In a response to the question “About how often do you hear or read something in the news that makes you angry?” 73 percent of whites said they get angry at least once a day, in contrast to 66 percent of Hispanics and 56 percent of blacks.
Seventy-seven percent of Republicans also said they get angry at least once a day, compared to 67 percent of Democrats.
Among household income brackets, “the middle of the middle class” ($50,000 to $74,999) reported feeling anger at greater rates than the “very rich” ($150,000 and up) and the “very poor” ($15,000 and less). About 53 percent of women say they are angrier this year than last, compared with about 44 percent of men.
What accounts for these differences, along with the seeming trend of increasing anger in the population? The survey results paint a narrative of American decline, to which a majority of respondents subscribe, along with the feeling that racial tensions in the country have reached a high.
Fifty-two percent of Americans said the American Dream “once held true but does not anymore.” Thirty-nine percent think that race relations have become worse since President Obama was elected.
More interesting than these numbers are the demographic differences within them. While blacks are more likely than whites and Hispanics to think that the American Dream still holds true, they are also more likely — by 15 percentage points — to think that the recent killings of African American men by police are part of a larger pattern in the police’s treatment of African Americans.
A Gallup poll from the past summer showed a similar waning confidence in American institutions, while New York Times-CBS News polling has found that public perception of race relations has degraded since Obama’s inauguration. In the latter survey, 33 percent of blacks considered American race relations “generally good,” nine percentage points below whites.
Meanwhile, the NBC News-Survey Monkey-Esquire poll found that although far more whites than blacks said race relations have become worse since Obama was elected, they are also more likely to see police killings as isolated incidents.
With regard to political divisions, Republicans are angriest about congressional dysfunction and consumer fraud, while Democrats are the most mad about police officers shooting unarmed black men.
There is still much that angry Americans can agree on.
The outrage surrounding school shootings was near-unanimous, with more than 90 percent of respondents among all ethnicities, genders and political parties concurring that they are a source of anger.
Moreover, at least 80 percent of Republicans and Democrats were angry about massive consumer fraud, and the hypothetical protest sign “Taxed Enough Already” ranked in the top three picks of both political groups.
The social-justice issue that garnered the most agreement was LGBT rights, as 45 percent of respondents said LGBT individuals have a right to be angry about how they’re treated, and 61 percent oppose Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’s decision to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Despite the high rates of anger among most respondents, Esquire editors saw one pattern that suggested optimism over despair:
Indeed, despite having what many would consider a more legitimate case for feeling angry, black Americans are generally less angry than whites. Though they take great issue with the way they are treated by both society in general and the police in particular, blacks are also more likely than whites to believe that the American dream is alive; that America is still the most powerful country in the world. … Their optimism in the face of adversity suggests that hope, whatever its other virtues, remains a potent antidote to anger.