WASHINGTON – It's gloomy out there. Men and women, whites and minorities — all are feeling a war-weary pessimism about the country seldom shared by so many people.
Only 25 percent of those surveyed say things in the U.S. are going in the right direction, according to an AP-Ipsos poll this month. That is about the lowest level of satisfaction detected since the survey started in December 2003.
Rarely have longer-running polls found such a rate since the even gloomier days of 1992 ahead of the first President Bush's re-election loss to Democrat Bill Clinton.
The current glumness is widely blamed on public discontent with the war in Iraq and with President Bush. It is striking for how widespread the mood is among different groups of people.
Women and minorities are less content than men and whites, which has been true for years. But all four groups are at or near record lows for the AP-Ipsos poll, and at unusually low levels for older surveys, as well.
Ann Bailey, 69, a retired school secretary in Broken Arrow, Okla., is a conservative who believes the country is on the wrong track. That sentiment should raise alarms for Republicans hoping to hold the White House and recapture Congress next year.
She cites a widespread lack of honesty plus immigration, gasoline prices and Iraq — where a son and grandson are serving.
"As much as I hate it, I think they need to finish up what they're doing and get out of there," said Bailey. "I think we should step out and say, 'OK, now you solve your problem. We've done the best we can do."'
Larry Ward, a moderate Republican from Pocomoke, Md., also senses the U.S. is heading the wrong way.
"We're still fighting a war we can't win," said Ward, 47, who operates a tree service. "That's a real big thing for me."
Three in 10 men and two in 10 women said this month they think the country is on the right track, down from nearly half of each who felt that way at the end of 2003.
By race, 28 percent of whites and 18 percent of minorities said the same — just over half their rates of optimism from late 2003.
Asked in April why they felt things were veering in the wrong direction, one-third overall volunteered the war and one-fourth blamed poor leadership.
Nine percent faulted the economy, 8 percent a loss of moral values and 5 percent gasoline prices.
"We need to get out of war, get our economy back up, quit spending money outside of America and bring it here," said Democrat Lisa Pollard, 45, an insurance company analyst in Arlington, Texas. "It all starts at the White House."
When voter optimism hits such low levels, "It's not being driven by any specific group. It's a general kind of malaise that's across the board," Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said.
President Carter used the word "malaise" to describe a time of low national self-confidence in the late 1970s. He lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Republican Ronald Reagan.
Today's numbers could bode ill for Republicans and are reflected in polls that show voters prefer the Democratic Party to the GOP — without naming specific candidates — to win the White House next year. Early polling, though, shows specific front-running Republican hopefuls largely holding their own against top Democrats.
The mood prevailing in the polls is giving Democrats optimism about an election that is a long 18 months away.
"You connect the dots back to Bush. He's done more to undermine their brand than we could have done spending millions of dollars," said Cornell Belcher, who polls for Democrats. "I'd rather be us right now."
The especially low "right direction" numbers for women and minorities result largely because both groups tend to be more Democratic, less supportive of the war and more vulnerable to economic downturns, analysts say.
The percentage of white people who say Bush made the right decision to go to war in Iraq has exceeded that for minorities by 9 points to 25 points in AP-Ipsos polls over the past four years. The spread has been 5 points to 16 points when comparing men versus women who said it was the right choice.
For women, their pessimism extends across party lines. While 52 percent of Republican men said the country is heading the right way, only 33 percent of GOP women agreed.
Those who think the U.S. is heading in the right direction tend to be white male Republicans in strong financial situations who say they sense a solid economy and are satisfied with the country's leadership.
"I feel like despite the nation's problems, we're going to work our way through them and be better, stronger for it," said Robert Beard, 49, of Benicia, Calif., a programmer for a bank.
The lowest level of overall "right direction" responses in AP-Ipsos polling was 23 percent in May 2006 — virtually identical to this month's 25 percent because of the margins of sampling error in both polls.
AP-Ipsos polls last spring and in the fall of 2005 showed similarly low percentages of men, women, whites and nonwhites saying the country was moving in the right direction.
This month's AP-Ipsos poll involved telephone interviews with 1,000 adults from May 7-9. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.