The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The American Dream is hurting

President Obama is watched on a television screen at a barber shop as he delivers a speech on his strategy to combat the terrorist group ISIS on Sept. 10, 2014 in San Francisco. ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute shows 55 percent of Americans say the American Dream either never existed in the first place, or that it did exist but doesn't anymore.

Let's take a moment to reflect on how sad that is.

The poll shows just 42 percent of Americans cling to the notion of the American Dream -- loosely defined as people who work hard being able to get ahead. That's the lowest since the question was first asked in 2010 and down 11 points from 2012 (though not down significantly from 2011). Here's how that looks:

Again, this is not a huge shift from just three years ago. But it is a new low. And this is hardly the first poll to show Americans souring on the concept -- along with their country's economic future (which goes hand-in-hand) -- of the American Dream.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll in June showed 59 percent of Americans said the American Dream was unachievable -- the worst that number has been since 1996. Meanwhile, a February poll from McClatchy and Marist College showed 80 percent of people say it's harder to achieve the American Dream than it was before. Just 31 percent said those who worked hard had a good chance of improving their lot in life.

In fact, there is effectively a cottage industry of polling on the American Dream. It's kind of a big deal here, after all, and is one of the best ways to ask Americans about their true views of the economy. And almost all of it shows hard times for the American Dream, in one way or another.

But before you attribute this decline to Republicans who are very unhappy with President Obama and his leadership, consider this: Republicans (55 percent) are far more likely to believe in the American Dream than Democrats (33 percent). The 2012 report, for instance, showed Republicans at 60 percent and Democrats at 50 percent. So the difference is mostly attributable to Democrats.

And here's the breakdown along racial lines, from PRRI:

It's all a reminder that, even as the economy shows signs of improvement, the pessimism persists and actually appears to have increased.

Hence, the souring on the notion of the American Dream.