Battered by an economy that is only slow recovering — and soured by the spectacle of Washington dysfunction in the "fiscal cliff" debate — views of the nation's future and its fundamental promise have darkened in the four years since Barack Obama's first inauguration.
Then, even during an unfolding financial crisis, Americans believed by a double-digit margin that it was likely young people would have a better life than their parents, one facet of the classic American dream. Now, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds they're narrowly inclined to say that's not likely. By 50%-47%, respondents say the country's best years are behind us.
The stratospheric expectations that surrounded Obama's groundbreaking election in 2008 have fallen back to Earth — not to dismal levels, but to decidedly lower ones.
Then, two-thirds in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll said they were "optimistic" and "proud" in reaction to Obama's election; now, about half cite those emotions in response to his re-election.
Then, six in 10 were "excited"; now, four in 10 feel that way.
Negative reactions run higher now. Three in 10 were "pessimistic" in response to his election four years ago; now 43% are. Then, 27% described their response as "afraid"; that number has jumped to 36%.
The poll of 1,025 adults taken Dec. 14-17 has a margin of error of +/– 4 percentage points.
A majority also believe American power will decline rather than increase in 2013, something that has happened only once in the 15 years before when Gallup asked this question. Americans were most positive about American power increasing in 1963, when 84% expected such.