Public mood turns somber, Times/CBS poll discovers

November 04, 1990|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- As Election Day draws near, Americans are more pessimistic about the future than at any time in a decade, according to the latest poll by the New York Times and CBS News.

The dour mood coincides with deepening pessimism about the economy and is also linked to a collapse of faith in the ability of government and politicians to make things better, the telephone survey of 1,445 adults said.

For the first time since the stagnant economic growth and high inflation in the administration of Jimmy Carter, a plurality of Americans surveyed, nearly 4 in 10, said they expected things to get worse in the country over the next five years.

Only three in 10 said that things would get better in the poll conducted last Sunday through Wednesday. Substantial majorities of Americans said that they believe the economy is in bad shape (66 percent) and that it is harder to make ends meet (57 percent).

And in the face of this hardship, 77 percent of those surveyed said they thought government was run by a few big interests looking out for themselves rather than for the benefit of all the people.

That was the highest figure ever recorded in the quarter-century that various researchers have been taking this measure of cynicism toward government.

In 1964, before Vietnam and Watergate, only 29 percent said that the government was run for special interests.

The overall pessimism was in sharp contrast with the upbeat days after the Los Angeles Olympics and Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election, when nearly half of those polled said they thought things would be getting better and only two out of 10 thought things would get worse.

This dark mood forms the back drop for the first election of the 1990s.

The survey should be accurate, according to statistical theory, to within plus or minus 3 percentage points of what would have been found if it were possible to seek out and ask the same questions of all Americans.

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