Americans between ages 18 and 29 are significantly more likely to be satisfied with the overall state of the country than those who are 65 and older, according to the latest Society for Human Resource Management/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, conducted with the Pew Research Center.
While fully 72 percent of voters 65 and over saying they are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, only 39 percent of those under 30 share that dissatisfaction.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents between 18 and 29 said they believed the federal government would make progress in solving the nation's crucial problems over the next 12 months, while 38 percent said they did not. Just 7 percent said they had no confidence at all. The numbers are part of an overall pattern that shows sharper optimism about the country and higher approval of President Obama's job performance among younger and minority voters, contours of support that match core groups in his winning 2008 coalition.
Up the age bracket, the numbers on both Obama's approval and the nation's outlook begins to decline. Forty-two percent of those aged 30 to 49 and 50 to 64 saw progress over the next year, with 55 percent in both groups reporting little or no confidence that such progress will occur. Among the 65-plus crowd, confidence dropped to 36 percent, with pessimism rising to 60 percent.
"Young people talk more about the future because they have more of that," said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. "Older people talk more about the past because they have more of that. So young people have to be optimistic to think about the years ahead. They can't be as pessimistic."
Nelson added: "They're not focused on Medicare yet. Seniors are focused on Medicare, worried about their health care."
Overall, 52 percent of Americans harbor "not much" or no confidence that Washington will "make progress over the next year on the most important problems facing the country," while 44 percent show some level of optimism.
As Obama embarks on a college barnstorming tour to try to rally young voters to the Democratic side of the ballot, Republicans argued that young people should be more concerned about federal spending and should be wary of the president's policies. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who sits on the president's deficit reduction commission and is retiring after this year, said that young people would bear the brunt of what he called excessive deficit spending.
"I think if they look at what's happening in this country relative to the debt burden they're going to have to bear because we're spending their money today, paying bills for today and the bills are being passed onto them, they might not be quite so optimistic," Gregg said Tuesday.
Diagnostics of the country's current direction are markedly divergent based on age. Fifty-four percent between 18 and 29 say they are satisfied "with the way things are going in this country today." Only 28 percent of those from 30 to 49 and 22 percent from 50 to 64 share that opinion. Over 65, only 19 percent are satisfied with the general direction of the country.
Those national outlook figures track closely to people's perception of the job Obama is doing. The president is doing an excellent or good job, according to 45 percent of the youngest voters, 47 percent of whom rate him fair or poor. From there, his numbers slide, bottoming out among voters between 50 and 64 at 34 percent to 63 percent for the positive/negative split. A mere 39 percent of voters over 65 think the president is doing at least a good job, while 53 percent rate him fair or poor.
Asked why Obama polled well among young and minority voters, Gregg offered a small smile and replied, "He's a charismatic guy."
Along ethnic lines, Obama did best among black non-Hispanic respondents, 76 percent of whom rated his job performance positively, 21 percent negatively. Total non-white voters gave him a 58/37 approval, while his worst grades came among white non-Hispanics, 66 percent of whom said the job he was doing was only fair or poor, just 30 percent of them scoring him positively.
Among whites categorized by education level, the president fared best with white women with college degrees; 39 percent of them gave him a positive job rating, while 57 percent went negative. Those numbers dropped to 31 percent positive versus 65 percent negative among white women with some college or less. Thirty-one percent of white men who had completed a college degree approved, 67 percent disapproved. Among white men without a college degree, Obama registered a dismal 22 percent approval rating, while 71 percent were critical.
White women with college degrees also voiced greater degrees of optimism about whether the government can make progress on pressing issues over the next year than other voting blocs, with 46 percent of them professing confidence. That's 10 points above white women and men with some college or less, and 8 points above white male college graduates.
Twenty-three percent of black non-Hispanic respondents said they had "a lot of confidence," the highest score among any of the poll's subgroups, buffeted by 44 percent who reported lesser optimism. Just 30 percent reported pessimism.
Total non-whites were a little less sanguine -- 60 percent were upbeat for the next year and 37 percent with little or no confidence.
The survey of 1,010 adults, conducted Thursday through Sunday, carries an error margin of 4 percent for the entire sample, with larger error margins for subgroups.
This article appears in the October 2, 2010 edition of NJ Daily.