Nearly 6-in-10 Americans say they are thriving as pandemic life is ending for many 📊 July 11, 2021
High optimism about the future is one way life is returning to normal
This is my weekly data-driven newsletter on politics, polling, and democracy — and whatever else I’m thinking about. If you want more frequent posts on these subjects please sign up for a paid subscription. I send out subscribers-only posts twice each week.
Finally, some good news!
Gallup has released the results of a semi-annual national survey that finds the share of Americans who are “thriving” has reached its highest level on record. Fifty-nine percent of adults, according to their categorization scheme, are “thriving” rather than “struggling” or “suffering”, exceeding the previous 57% high set in September of 2017. The classification is based on a scale developed by Hadley Cantril, a psychologist who did some of the early early public opinion work with George Gallup, which has respondents rate their personal life satisfaction for both the present and future on a scale from 0 to 10.
“Those who rate their current life a 7 or higher,” according to Gallup, “and their anticipated life in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving.”
A 59% rate of thriving represents a stark increase over last year, when the average response on Gallup’s life satisfaction scale equaled the lows detected during the worst point of the Great Recession. Three percent of people categorize themselves as “suffering”.
Some more data: Gallup finds that the share of people saying they experienced worry or stress “a lot of the day yesterday” has returned to pre-pandemic levels. Thirty-eight and 44 percent, respectively, say they experienced such feelings:
The broader context for these trends is that more Americans are returning to their pre-pandemic lives each day. The number of people going to grocery stores, retail shopping, and making trips on public transport are all getting closer to February 2020 levels each day, according to Google’s data-mining. Bloomberg’s “Pret Index”, which measures how often people are shopping at the popular UK-based sandwhich stop, has fully returned to normal in London’s suburbs, and is approaching normality in most other zones.
Of course, this is all being made possible by the administration of vaccines, which continues to rise (albeit non-linearly). The CDC estimates nearly 160m people have received all their doses of the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. And although it might be hard to push vaccination rates meaningfully higher, activity will continue to rise as the social norms of caution and relaxed livelihood that most of us adopted during lockdowns break down.
Beyond the obvious impacts to the economy, Gallup’s data reveal we are experiencing a welcome rise in collective mental wellbeing. The dissipation of stress related to covid-19 and our Hedonic approximation of pre-pandemic levels of hope and happiness is a notable indicator of a general return to normalcy.
Posts for subscribers
July 1: Walking backwards up the mountain. A short vacation dispatch
July 6: Why did the GOP slide so far towards authoritarianism between 2011 and 2020? Donald Trump brought more ethnically antagonist voters into the Republican Party, and those voters are particularly anti-democratic
July 10: A subscribers-only thread on the White House’s use of polling to push policies with bipartisan support in a counter-majoritarian legislature
Editor’s note, continued:
I am back in the DC metro area and happy to be returning to a productive life after my vacation, newly wed to my long-term partner and reinvigorated with a drive to write about data that tell deeper stories both about peoples’ lives and the structures of society and politics. It also just so happens this week is roughly a year out from when I signed my book deal, and about the 4-year anniversary from when I started this newsletter. Those feel like good reasons to reflect on what I’m doing here — to refocus and clarify the mission of this publication.
I suspect many of you subscribed to my email blog for electoral handicapping and related election content. I’m still going to do a lot of that, especially for paid subscribers, but over the next year you can expect a higher percentage of bulletins on data that help us talk about the daily life of the average American, the science (esp the psychology) of politics, and the deeper connections between citizens — and their government. That’s a big theme of my upcoming book, as well as the next ones I’m drafting on the math of electoral reform and social contracts and on the hidden stories of political science that both get missed in media coverage and shape our day-to-day political life. This type of content is also much more fulfilling for me, so you can expect it to be better by virtue of me being more interested in it.
You can think of today as marking a slight shift in this newsletter towards a companion publication for my bigger projects, rather than being a place where I mostly just expand on my 280-character thought about whatever’s in the news. But along those lines, I’m also going to write more short blog posts about new studies I find interesting and some of the controversies in political/electoral statistics, publishing them online but often not via email (to avoid flooding your inboxes).
Over the last year and change — marked mainly by the modeling work I did during the election and empirical commentary on our electoral institutions and psychology of the GOP after January 6 — I think we’ve managed to build a smart, engaged community of political nerds who are interested in being smarter about how we shape politics, and on how politics shapes our lives. Of course, I couldn’t have done any of that without the loyal base of paying subscribers who make it possible for me to spend time on this passion project. Please click here if you want to join that club.
As always, please share this newsletter if you got something out of it; I don’t buy ads or promote content online, so word of mouth is the only way this thing grows.
I am excited to see what the next year brings.
Links to what I’m reading and writing
Natalie Jackson for 538: Vaccination rates for Republicans are slightly lower if they watch Fox News (versus mainstream outlets) regularly, and much much lower is they tune into OANN, which is essentially a mouthpiece for Trump’s conspiracy theories.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt for The Atlantic on how to fix the short- and long-term threats to American democracy posed by the electoral illiberalism of the GOP. They say making government more responsive, mainly by making politicians more electorally accountable, could do much of the work.
The NYT has some great graphics on the trajectory of the economic recovery.
Here’s a piece from me on the concerning number of Americans (30%) who don’t believe in climate change.
And one more from me on how a cross-party lack of confidence in democracy (and members of the other party) makes compromise and progress even harder, reinforcing the downward spiral.
Also: I was on Michael Cohen’s podcast for his newsletter Truth and Consequences. (The journalist, not Trump’s former bag man.) You can click here for a special rate on Michael’s content; you’ll need a subscription to listen to the pod.
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