Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data

By Richard G. Niemi; John Mueller et al. | Go to book overview
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15
Psychological Well-Being/Group Membership

Although social pundits, including President Jimmy Carter at one point, have concluded that the American people from time to time can collectively slump into a condition of malaise, ill-will, or Westschmerz, little sign of such notable lapses show up in available public opinion surveys. Chapter 4 suggests that the population's satisfaction with politics, politicians, and political institutions has waxed and waned somewhat over the decades, but questions asking about the respondents' satisfaction with life, marriage, and health, and about their human surroundings have for the most part been quite steady (Tables 15.1-15.9).

Some of the data extend back into the 1960 and 1950s, but the bulk of it comes from the period since 1973. Quite a few things happened in that era: Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War, inflation, the hostage-taking in Iran, a rise of social concerns over some issues of gender and race, the AIDS epidemic, an economic recovery, the Reagan balm, the Iran-Contra scandal. Throughout, Americans became no more, or less, happy, and they registered happiness ratings at about the same level as in earlier decades (Table 15.1; for more extensive analyses, especially of the earlier period, see Gurin, Veroff, and Feld, 1960; Smith, 1979). Similarly, they said that their marriages were about the same as ever and professed to find no cosmic changes for the better or worse in their health (Tables 15.2, 15.3, 15.9). They found life no more nor less exciting (15.4), and got about the same amount of satisfaction from where they lived, their hobbies, family life, friendships (15.5-15.9), and their work (12.1).1

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1
A number of efforts have been made to develop sophisticated, multiple-item measures of well-being. See, for example, Andrews and Withey ( 1976), Campbell, Converse, and Rodgers ( 1976), and Campbell ( 1981).

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