In Romance with USA, Americans Play Hard to Get

An op-ed chart in the morning’s New York Times bore sobering news for President Bush: when compared with previous two term presidents, Bush just isn’t very appealing. Of the last three reelected presidents — Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — only the scandal-ridden Nixon had a more precipitous decline in second-term support, from 67% to 39%. Bush currently stands at just 44% approval.

But the NYT chart contained another juicy piece of information: favorable ratings for Congress have steadily declined over the same 30-year period. They’ve fallen from 79% (in 1973), to 57% (in 1985), to 52% (in 1997), to a current-day low of 49%. In other words, we live in an age where less than half the country approves of the president, and less than half the country approves of congress.

In fact, it’s difficult to know just what Americans do approve of. Only 39% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court, which means that the public disapproves of all three branches of government.

And the media? It turns out that Americans like (and trust) those folks less and less. A Pew Study found that in 1985 84% of Americans could “believe most of what they read in their daily newspaper.” By 2004 that figure had fallen to just 54%


And yet, in a bizarre instance of cognitive dissonance, Americans are still some of the most patriotic people on the planet: a recent Roper poll found that 8 in 10 people think patriotism is “in,” and consider themselves very patriotic.  Is this evidence that Americans like America, and simply hate everything in it?

— Conor Clarke