By: John Zogby
The nation is divided on so many things: God, guns, gay marriage, Obamacare, the fiscal cliff, abortion, the President's job performance, and optimism. Optimism? Even that. Now on the surface, Americans are feeling better about the next fours than they have in a while: 53% told us in our March 14-15 Zogby Poll that they were "very optimistic" or somewhat optimistic" about "the next four years in America". Four in ten (42%), however, said they were either "very pessimistic" or "somewhat pessimistic".
But what is puzzling - actually troubling - is what this pollster sees in the cross-tabulations. It doesn't appear that optimism or pessimism has that much to do with people's lives and the sense of their own personal future. For starters, if you supported President Obama's re-election, then you are optimistic. If you did not, you are pessimistic. So the real metric here seems to be based on ideology. Thus, 84% of Democrats are optimistic while 28% of Republicans are optimistic. One exception: only 40% of independents are optimistic, 50% are pessimistic. Yet independents voted for Mr. Obama.
The most optimistic Americans are Hispanics (84%) and African Americans (86%), liberals (84%), moderates (57%), 18-29 year olds (57%), 30-49 year olds (59%), Catholics (61%), union members (67%), Weekly Wal-Mart Shoppers (61%), Investor Class (61%), NASCAR Fans 57%, Catholics (60%), and Creative Class (61%). Among income groups: the most optimistic are those earning over $100,000 a year.
What all this tells me is that "optimism" may be based on two political judgments: one is that the optimists are happy that Mr. Obama won in 2012 and two is that the Republicans lost. So far it looks like a positive view of the future prevails because three months into his second term, the President is holding together his coalition. And, while he is losing support among independents, he is gaining a foothold among higher income voters.
Aside from the weak spirit among independents, the President should also be concerned about lukewarm optimism among those in the middle income groups. Of those earning $35,000-$50,000, there is a net pessimism of 48% to 46%, while there is an even split of 48% among those in the $50,000-$75,000 bracket and 49% among those in the $75,000-$100,000 income level. Generally, no one wins (nor pushes through a successful agenda) without majority support from middle income groups. Included in these groups are large numbers of white voters who are among the most resentful toward government programs and rising taxes - and who may be sensing they are losing ground to public employees who their taxes fund.
All in all, however, the big questions are: What comes first, the ideology and support for the President or the sense of optimism? Can the President hold on to his coalition as time drags on? Does he have enough juice to push through his agenda? Can the Republicans, so busy trying to figure out what defines a "real conservative" as opposed to a national agenda, take advantage and bounce back in 2014?
It is disconcerting to think we have reached a point where party and ideology determine one's outlook toward the future. So for partisans it is not a question of winning or losing and acting in the national interest. It is all or nothing. Things will be great only if "my" candidate wins. If he or she does not, it is the end of the world. In the meantime, we get sequestration, permanent campaigns, stagnation, gridlock, and Presidential obstinacy, Congressional obstruction, lost time.
This is "my way or the highway" America. The Great Optimism Divide does not offer much solace to either side right now. And as a result of that, it doesn't offer much comfort to anyone at all.