Americans Believe Nation Headed Down Wrong Track, According to New Poll

Fifty-one percent of people believe the country is on the wrong track, according to a poll conducted by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.

The survey of 2,100 individuals from around the country was released Monday in conjunction with a daylong conference on money and politics sponsored by the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Thirty-one percent of respondents believe the country is heading in the right direction.

"The pessimism that we have seen expressed in national surveys over the past 15 months continues," said Government Professor Daron Shaw, who oversaw the polling along with Government Professor Brian Roberts and Texas Politics Project Director James Henson. "Americans are very concerned about the economy and unemployment, but also express concern about corruption and the efficacy of the political system."

The poll found 42 percent of respondents believe the economy, including unemployment and recent federal bailout packages, is the most important issue facing the country today. Health care ranked second among respondents' concerns at 17 percent.

Similarly, 95 percent of respondents rated jobs and unemployment as an issue of high importance, more than any other of the 15 issues included in the survey. Gay marriage ranked as the issue of least importance to voters, with just 37 percent characterizing it as a high concern.

"Our results," Roberts said, "suggest that an economic recovery will only go so far in restoring the public's trust in Congress. Perceptions of corruption and the role of money in politics are profound and are poised to impact voting decisions."

The poll also examined respondents' views on the role of money in politics. Findings included:

  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents say the source of a candidate's campaign contributions are a factor in how to vote, compared to 29 percent who say the amount a candidate raises is a factor.
  • Respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a hypothetical U.S. Senate candidate if he or she received campaign contributions primarily from friends and acquaintances compared to the tobacco industry or trial attorneys. But the amount of money the candidate raised had no impact on voter support.
  • The three biggest factors influencing Congress member's votes are campaign contributors, party affiliation and lobbyists, according to respondents who said constituents' concerns had the least influence.

The poll, which was conducted over the Internet Oct. 13-22, has a margin of error of 2.1 percent. Complete results and methodology are available online at the Texas Politics Project Web site.