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How Has the Mood of the Country Changed in the Past Two Years?

Burning Questions


There’s been a spate of articles recently indicating that the country’s in a sour mood. Major left and right factions seem to be in unyielding disagreement with each other, leading to a sense of deadlock, hopelessness, and dread.

Hmm…that’s not what our research reveals. Just as our mid-2016 research was at variance with what the major polls were telling us, our research once again differs from the norm. Let us explain.

optimists increased

What our research on the mood of the country found

In 2014 we asked a panel of 500 US respondents 28 questions that in effect invited them to be cynical (if they wanted to).  For example, we asked them how strongly they agreed with certain assertions such as:

          “This country is going down the tubes.”
          “There’s been a serious breakdown of basic moral codes in this country.”

In that year just short of half (44%) agreed with those negative propositions.  We called them “Cynics.”  This was the largest group among the four we identified using an advanced cluster analysis.  The other groups were:

          Optimists            26%
          Modernists          15%
          Libertarians        15%

As you’d expect, the Optimists largely disagreed with the dark statements.  (We’ll tell you in a subsequent blog what the Modernists and Libertarians are all about.)

The Twist in 2016

In 2016 we asked 500 US respondents the same questions and got a surprising result.  The Optimist group (those who disagreed with the negative statements) expanded to 42%, while the Cynic group shrank to 23%.  This suggested a positive shift in the overall mood or attitude of the country, more consistent with the findings of the Conference Board on overall Consumer Confidence than with the findings of large-scale political polls and surveys.  (See the far right of the chart below.)

consumer confidence index                               Copyright 2016 Bloomberg News, The Conference Board

Our Interpretation

We don’t believe there’s a somber mood in this country to begin with. We didn’t believe this in the summer of 2016, either, as our research did not indicate such a dark or negative mood. Instead, we think properly interpreted social research findings (i.e., research findings interpreted without bias) indicate that citizens and consumers are quite upbeat.

negative statements

Who’s talking, the media or the people?

A lot of this comes down to “who’s reporting” when you hear about a mood of anger, bitterness, and divisiveness. Is the grim mood being reported by the news media or the people themselves? A properly executed survey analyzed without bias is a way to faithfully sample the mood of the people. You can’t necessarily count on the news media to have the same sense of responsibility as an objective researcher when analyzing the results of social surveys, as many media organizations have strong agendas.

Seek Truth

It’s possible to read social survey results fairly and accurately. Organizations like Cambridge Analytica and Dornsife/USC have proven in the last election cycle that survey results interpreted in an unbiased way can be quite accurate and predictive. Our results are closer to what these two research organizations found and are quite far away from what’s being reported by pollsters tied to news media.

What’s your view? If you’d like to comment on this topic, please click on “Add Comments” below. We’d love to hear from you!

  1. Martin_L

    I absolutely believe that the mood of a certain political persuasion (Democrats) has very significantly changed – darkened, since the election of Trump. I know mine and my friends and family have.

    I see the point of your paper though, and agree. I think that one of the key reasons Trump got elected was that he sold ignorant Americans that our economy is going down the tubes (it wasn’t), that our country is being overrun by illegal immigrants that are terrible criminals, rapists, murderers and terrorists (they’re not), and that he will be the protector of the middle and lower class (he’s not).

  2. Rice Williams

    Jerry, I have used your research services in the past and am confident that the research is indeed objective. The media, however, has evolved in the past 20 years away from the role of being the “objective reporter and interpreter” of facts to typically having a specific messaging objective toward its readers. Makes it harder to separate real facts from creative reporting these days.

  3. William_M

    Jerry, This is great stuff! You show how you and your company are seeking fundamental truths. Well done. Thanks, Bill

  4. John Raffetto

    This is a good contrarian view – refreshing to see. I also get the sense the media is doing the talking; much of what we see on social media is an echo of that.

  5. barbara Hirsch

    Timing is everything. Since November the left is feeling hopeless and full of dread. You should poll again. And be brave enough to publish the results in the media. If I am wrong, will be happy to hear it.

  6. buttshineboy

    All right, all right, but please note that consumer confidence ticked downward a little in January.

  7. charlie_j

    There’s no question that polls got it wrong in 2016. But the “burning issue” (your words) is whether they had bad data, they had good data but bad analysis, or there was something so fundamentally flawed in their basic methodology that they weren’t going to be able to see the truth anyway. Does that mean polls should just go away? I think there’s still a role for well-done polls.

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