- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Americans are optimistic, “very satisfied with life” and have confidence in their public institutions, especially the U.S. armed forces and law-enforcement agencies, two new polls show.

Fifty-six percent of Americans say their personal situation has improved over the last five years, up seven points since last year, and 68 percent expect their personal situation to improve over the next five years, up five points from 2003, a Harris poll released yesterday found.

“These changes since last year almost certainly reflect improvements in the economy and are probably good news for President Bush,” the poll stated. “The better people feel about their personal situation, the more likely they are to vote for an incumbent.”

The number of people who feel their lives have worsened in the last five years declined to 16 percent, five percentage points lower than last year.

Meanwhile, the nation’s confidence in its public institutions is on the rise, according to a Gallup poll released yesterday.

Americans trust their military the most, with 75 percent saying they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the armed forces. The figure is more or less on par with previous years, despite the Iraqi prisoner-abuse problem.

Last year, the confidence level in the military was 82 percent. In 2002, it was 79 percent.

American law enforcement has also won the public’s trust, with 64 percent saying they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police. It is the highest rating for law enforcement in more than a decade, and up from 61 percent last year and 59 percent in 2002.

According to the Harris poll of 979 adults taken between April 8 and 15, men are slightly happier than women.

Overall, 60 percent of American males report being “very satisfied with life.” Fifty-nine percent of women agree. Another 55 percent of men say their lives have improved in the last five years and 71 percent expect them to improve in the future. Among women, those figures were 57 percent and 65 percent, respectively.

Along racial and ethnic lines, 61 percent of blacks say they are “very satisfied” with their lives. The figure was 60 percent among whites and 46 percent among Hispanics.

Whites were the least optimistic about the future, with 62 percent saying their lives would improve in five years. The figure was 86 percent for both blacks and Hispanics.

The happiest Americans? It is a tie between the 25- to 29-year-old crowd and those over 65 — in both groups, 69 percent reported they were “very satisfied.” Still, 89 percent of those from 25 to 29 said their lives would improve over the next five years; only 23 percent of those over 65 agreed.

According to the Gallup poll of 1,002 adults conducted May 21 to 23, 53 percent said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in both organized religion and the banking system. Another 52 percent felt the same about the presidency.

Confidence levels varied elsewhere, with 46 percent citing their confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court, 44 percent in the medical system, 41 percent in public schools and 34 percent in the criminal justice system.

At the very bottom of the list were health maintenance organizations at 18 percent, “big business” at 24 percent; newspapers, TV news and the U.S. Congress all at 30 percent, and organized labor at 31 percent.

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