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Actually, Romney, Americans have been pessimistic since 1984

August 31, 2012|By Doyle McManus
  • Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers his nomination acceptance speech Thursday on the final day of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers his nomination acceptance… (Spencer Platt / Getty Images )

Remember the passage in Mitt Romney's acceptance speech when he said this?

"For the first time, the majority of Americans now doubt that our children will have a better future."

It turns out that's not true.

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Romney is right that most Americans aren't confident that the next generation will do better -- but there's nothing new about that. Pollsters have been finding similar results for almost 30 years.

"From 1984 until now, a plurality on almost every survey -- and sometimes a majority -- has said the next generation would have it worse than this generation," said Samuel L. Popkin, a political scientist at UC San Diego. "It's rarely been in positive territory."

And Popkin should know: He devised that question -- the first of its kind, he says -- for the CBS-New York Times Poll back in 1984.

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(The current wording of the question: “Do you think the future of the next generation of Americans will be better, worse or about the same as life today?”)

In October 1984, for example, during the recession of the first Ronald Reagan administration, a whopping 63% said they thought the next generation would be worse off.

The number improved briefly in the early 1990s; soared again to 58% in March 1995, during Bill Clinton’s tumultuous first term; eased during the boom of the late 1990s; and soared again under George W. Bush.

In the most recent CBS-New York Times poll that asked the question, last April, 47% said “worse.” That was a modest improvement since 2010, when 51% said worse.

So, yes, Americans are pessimistic about the future -- just as they are during most periods of economic distress. But it’s not new -- and certainly not unique to the presidency of Barack Obama.

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Follow Doyle McManus on Twitter @DoyleMcManus

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