With Election Day just over a year away, a deep sense of economic anxiety and doubt about the future hangs over the nation, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, with Americans’ distrust of government at its highest level ever.
The combustible climate helps explain the volatility of the presidential race and has provided an opening for protest movements like, to highlight grievances about banks, and a sense that the poor and middle class have been disenfranchised.
Almost half of the public thinks the sentiment at the root of the Occupy movement generally reflects the views of most Americans.
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With nearly all Americans remaining fearful that the economy is stagnating or deteriorating further, two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country. Seven in 10 Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich. Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number prefer increasing income taxes on millionaires.
On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office released a new study concluding that income distribution had become much more uneven in the last three decades, a report that could figure prominently in the battle over how to revive the economy and rein in the federal debt.
The poll findings underscore a dissatisfaction and restlessness heading into the election season that has been highlighted through competing voices from the Occupy Wall Street andmovements, a broad anti-Washington sentiment and the crosscurrents inside both parties about the best way forward.
Not only do 89 percent of Americans say they distrust government to do the right thing, but 74 percent say the country is on the wrong track and 84 percent disapprove of Congress — warnings for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Republican voters remain unenthused about their options to challenge President Obama next year, as the competition intensifies among Mitt Romney, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and other contenders. The uncertainty has provided an opening for Herman Cain, who was viewed more enthusiastically by Republican primary voters than were other Republican candidates.
The approval rating for Mr. Obama, 46 percent, appears to be elevated by positions he has taken on foreign affairs. Sixty percent of those questioned said they approve of his handling of Iraq, a question added to the poll after his announcement last Friday that American troops would come home by the end of the year.
But the president, whose disapproval rating is also 46 percent, also faces mixed signals from the public about his latest job-creation proposals. While the poll found substantial support for the plan’s individual components, more than half of the public say he lacks a clear plan for creating jobs, despite his extensive travels around the country over the last six weeks selling his proposals.
With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, income inequality remains a palpable issue for Americans. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats, two-thirds of independents and just over one-third of all Republicans say that the distribution of wealth in the country should be more equitable, even as a majority of Republicans said they think it is fair.
The poll showed the depth of malaise in the air as the president intensifies his re-election campaign and Republican candidates implore voters to give them a look.
“I don’t want to blanket the whole government that way, but it’s getting scary,” said Jo Waters, 87, a Democrat and a retired hospital administrator from Pleasanton, Calif., speaking in a follow-up telephone interview. “Everything is for the wealthy. This used to be a lovely country, but everything is sliding.”
With the nation’s first Republican nominating contests just two months away, a large majority of primary voters have yet to make up their minds about the candidate they hope becomes their nominee. About 8 in 10 Republican primary voters said it was still too early to tell whom they will support, and just 4 in 10 said they had been paying a lot of attention to the race.
Mr. Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, is riding the latest wave of support among Republican primary voters that has placed him in a statistical dead heat with Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Support for Mr. Perry has weakened to 6 percent, placing him among the second-tier candidates with the former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Ron Paul of Texas.
Congressional Republicans are viewed even worse than the president, with 71 percent of the public saying the party does not have a clear plan for creating jobs. And support for several other Republican proposals is more tepid than for Mr. Obama’s initiatives to lift the economy.
Only about a quarter of the public said that lowering taxes on large corporations or repealing the entire nationalwas a good idea. But half of the public favors reducing or repealing regulations on businesses in the United States.
The nationwide telephone poll was conducted from last Wednesday through Monday with 1,650 adults, of whom 1,475 were registered to vote. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus three percentage points.
A remarkable sense of pessimism and skepticism was apparent in question after question in the survey, which found that Congressional approval has reached a new low at 9 percent. The disapproval toward Congress has risen 22 percentage points since the beginning of the year when Republicans took control of the House.
“Probably the government in Washington could be trusted at one time but now it seems like it’s all a game of who wins rather than what’s best for the people,” said Paulette Delgadillo, 52, a self-employed interior decorator from Tempe, Ariz.
Nearly all Americans agree that the nation’s economic outlook is dark, with 49 percent saying the economy is at a standstill and 36 percent saying it is getting worse. But nearly three-quarters of the public lack confidence that Congress will be able to reach agreement on a plan to help create jobs.
In February, a CBS News poll found that 27 percent of the public said the views of the Tea Party movement reflected the sentiment of most Americans. In the current poll, 46 percent of the public said the same of the Occupy Wall Street movement. “They do reflect the discontent of most Americans,” said Sheila Shriver, 69, a retired special education teacher and independent voter from Columbus, Ohio. “People are unhappy with the way the country seems to be moving, especially when it comes to lack of jobs. Washington hasn’t even been concerned about that.”