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Americans more downbeat than at any time since Carter, poll says

As President Obama begins his second term, he is facing an increasingly pessimistic public who believes that America's best days are behind them.

According to a recently released Gallup poll, 39 percent of Americans rated the current climate of the country as positive. That's about the same as it was in 2010 -- and has been the lowest recorded by Gallup since President Jimmy Carter's term in 1979.

Gallup asked Americans to rate their feelings about the country today, five years from now and five years ago. Based on a scale of 0 to 10, the 39 percent of Americans gave a 6-to-10 rating when asked to evaluate the nation's current climate. 

Taken together with the 2010 reading, that's just above where the country was at the end of the Carter term -- when inflation was high and the economy was reeling.  At that time, just 34 percent had a positive outlook. 

Optimism steadily rose after 1979, peaking in about 2001 at 73 percent -- since the 9/11 terror attacks, national optimism has steadily declined. 

Now, with unemployment slightly below 8 percent and economic growth continuing at a meager pace, a similar malaise may be setting in. Even the outlook on the future is down. Forty-eight percent were upbeat about where the country will be in five years, also the lowest since 1979. 

The survey also found that most Americans' attitudes toward the status of the country are connected to their political views. Republicans believe that when there is a GOP president in power, things are better. The same rings true of Democrats and their mood based on the party in power.

When it comes to the future, the polling agency found a 60 percentage-point partisan difference in optimism. Only 15 percent of Republicans felt positive about the future, compared to 75 percent of Democrats.

The Gallup poll results are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 7-10, 2012, with 1,011 adults. There is a 4 percentage point margin of error.