Although the public mood has been darkening since the beginning of the second war against Iraq in 2003, there is nearly a national consensus that America is facing significant problems. A majority of nearly every demographic and political group - Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school - say the United States is headed in the wrong direction.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago, and just four percent said it was better off. The dissatisfaction is especially striking because public opinion usually hits its low point only in the months and years after an economic downturn, not at the beginning of one.
Only 21 percent of respondents said the overall economy was in good condition, the lowest such number since late 1992, when the recession that began in the summer of 1990 had already been over for more than a year. In the latest poll, two in three people said they believed the economy was in recession today.
Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they approved the job President Bush was doing, a number that has barely changed since last summer. But Democrats, who have controlled the House and Senate since last year, also face the risk that unhappy voters will punish Congressional incumbents.
The poll found that Americans blame government officials for the crisis more than banks or home buyers and other borrowers. Forty percent of respondents said regulators were mostly to blame, while 28 percent named lenders and 14 percent named borrowers. In assessing possible responses to the mortgage crisis, Americans displayed a populist streak, favouring help for individuals but not for financial institutions.
A clear majority said they did not want the government to lend a hand to banks, even if the measures would help limit the depth of a recession. The nationwide telephone survey of 1,368 adults was conducted from March 28 to April 2. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.