Who Will Party with Whom?
THE SHIFT IN PUBLIC OPINION that follows a triggering event can be quite dramatic. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, as Americans rallied around their country and its commander-in-chief, more than two-thirds (68%) said the country was headed in the right direction. By November 2004, however, fewer than half of all Americans (45%) said they were satisfied with the country's direction. Since then, the satisfaction level of Americans with the state of their nation has moved steadily downward almost every month. In April 2007, less than a third of Americans were satisfied with the current state of affairs in the United States—an average of 28 percent across the major national polls taken that month (Greenberg, Carville, and Ipararraguirre 2007).
There is virtually no demographic variation in the perception that things in the United States are off track. Regardless of gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, or education, a large majority expresses dissatisfaction with the current state of American life. Democrats, of course, are least positive—about eight in ten Democratic identifiers are unhappy with the current situation in U.S. politics and society. But even a narrow plurality of Republicans also feels this way (46%) (Frank N. Magid Associates, May 2007).
This level of intense political discouragement is reminiscent of the beginning of earlier realignments. Voters' unhappiness with the status quo usually becomes evident before the country registers its final judgment on which of the two political parties it favors. Once that judgment is rendered in the course of at least one if not two presidential elections, with all the attendant emotion and involvement such contests bring to American politics, it establishes the relative standing of the two political parties for the next thirty to forty years.