Three major national polls were released late Wednesday and Thursday. And all of them were nothing short of depressing.
1) A New York Times poll showed just 64 percent of Americans believe in the American Dream. That's the lowest that number has been since at least 1996.
2) A Pew Research Center poll showed just under half -- 49 percent -- of Americans said they expect next year to be a better year than this year. That's the lowest that's been since the recession, and a couple years before, too.
3) An AP-GfK poll shows just 13 percent of Americans say they are confident that Republicans and President Obama can come together to address the country's problems. (A similar question from Pew found just 20 percent expect Congress and Obama to "make progress" on important issues.)
So, to recap, Americans have hit low points on their belief in our country's main economic principle, their general feelings about life and their faith in our government. That just about covers it.
And all of it comes even as there is increasingly good news on the economy, including month after month of solid job creation, unemployment below six percent, fast-falling gas prices and even rising economic confidence.
Back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter's pollster famously explained the state of the American public in a memo to Carter.
"What was really disturbing to me," the pollster, Patrick Caddell, said, "was for the first time, we actually got numbers where people no longer believed that the future of America was going to be as good as it was now. And that really shook me, because it was so at odds with the American character."
Caddell said the American people were suffering from a "crisis of confidence" that needed to be addressed ... by the president. Carter soon delivered what came to be known as the "malaise" speech -- though he never actually used that word. He lost reelection a year later.
None of this is to suggest President Obama deliver a Carter-esque "malaise" speech (it didn't seem to work for Carter, after all -- though reasonable people disagree on that count), nor is it to compare what was happening in the late 1970s to what is happening today. They are not even close to the same thing -- double-digit inflation, a gas shortage, etc.
But Caddell's thoughts on a "crisis of confidence" certainly could be applied to the poll numbers referenced above. Americans have little confidence in much of anything these days, up to and including many of the major American institutions.
And "malaise" -- defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a general feeling of discomfort, illness or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify" -- fits pretty neatly. In fact, in 1979, there was a more obvious cause for that uneasy feeling.
The practical effect of this kind of malaise is hard to predict -- except that it suggests people will want to shake things up in just about any way they can. The fact that we've had four wave elections in the past five elections seems to support that.
And until optimism makes a comeback, predicting the American electorate's next move will be a very difficult thing to do.
This post has been updated.