Americans Aren’t Really Very Angry — Except Toward Uncle Sam

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Are voters really angry this year? The Associated Press says no:

All that talk of an angry America?

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that most Americans are happy with their friends and family, feel good about their finances and are more or less content at work. It’s government, particularly the federal government, that’s making them see red.

Hmmm. People are generally pretty happy with their finances and their personal lives, but they’re really pissed off at the federal government. We’ve seen this dynamic before. Here’s a long-term look at polling data from the Washington Post:

Anger toward the federal government has been on a steady upward trend ever since 2003 (though voters in 2016 are less angry than they were in 2014). And this trend is notably unaffected by economic conditions. Anger didn’t spike during the 2000 dotcom bust and it didn’t spike during the 2008 crash. So what’s going on? The obvious culprits are:

  • Fox News and the rest of the conservative outrage machine
  • The Iraq war, which explains why anger started to rise in 2003
  • The tea party, which explains the spike in 2010
  • The election of Barack Obama, which would explain a spike beginning around 2008 (there’s no data between 2004-2010)

Take your pick. Maybe it’s a combination of things. But the bottom line seems fairly simple: there’s voluminous data suggesting that, in general, Americans are fairly happy with their personal finances and fairly happy with their lives in general. As happy as they’ve ever been, anyway. But they’re pretty pissed off at the federal government. If there’s anything interesting to be said about voter anger, this is the puzzle to focus on.

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