Sad kid at the zoo, the family wishes to remain unnamed

One of the fundamental truisms of American life is this: Your kids will have a better life — more opportunities, more creature comforts, more whatever — than you did/do.  Except that people don't believe that any more, according to preliminary exit polls.

Almost half of all Americans — 48 percent — said they expected life for "future generations" to be "worse than life today," while 22 percent said it would be better. Another 27 percent said life would be about the same. Do the math and you see that more than twice as many people are pessimistic about the future that they will leave their kids as those who are optimistic.  (Not surprisingly, among the 48 percent who believe future generations will be worse off, two thirds of them voted for Republicans in today's election.)

Those are stunning — and depressing — numbers. And they are far from the only evidence that the American Dream is, if not dead, certainly dying in the eyes of many Americans. In 2013, the Post did a major survey alongside the Miller Center at the University of Virginia that sought to dig into the topic. Fifty-four percent of those tested by WaPo in 2013 said that they were "better off" than their parents, while just 39 percent said they thought their children would have a better quality of life than they have. A June CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showed that just one in three people believe "most children in this country will grow up to be better off" than their parents. (A whopping 63 percent said their kids will be worse off.) Not only are those numbers eye-opening, but they are also a major reversal from CNN data at the end of the last century (1999 to be exact) — when two-thirds of Americans predicted that children would grow up to have it better than their parents.

President Obama has attempted to grapple with that remarkable change in outlook of the American people. Here's part of what Obama said at a fundraiser in July in Seattle:

Part of peoples' concern is just the sense that around the world, the old order isn’t holding and we're not quite yet to where we need to be in terms of a new order that’s based on a different set of principles, that’s based on a sense of common humanity, that’s based on economies that work for all people.

There is, simply put, an anxiety coursing through the electorate that is born of an uncertain future and a growing belief that the people in power don't have any idea how to bring clarity from the murkiness.  No matter what happens tonight, tomorrow or the rest of the week, that anxiety won't go away. And it will be at the heart of the 2016 presidential fight.