INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Poll disorder? Americans are satisfied with their lives but not with the state of their union

Chroniclers of American history may wish to turn their attention from the sparsely attended (protesters not included) inauguration ceremony and reflect on a truly remarkable statistic from a Princeton Survey Research Associates poll published in mid-January.

Chroniclers of American history may wish to turn their attention from the sparsely attended (protesters not included) inauguration ceremony and reflect on a truly remarkable statistic from a Princeton Survey Research Associates poll published in mid-January.

Chroniclers of American history may wish to turn their attention from the sparsely attended (protesters not included) inauguration ceremony and reflect on a truly remarkable statistic from a Princeton Survey Research Associates poll published in mid-January.

Seeking views on the economy, the judgment of political leaders and expectations for the future, the Princeton folks asked slightly more than 1,300 adults, with a margin of error of 3%, whether they were satisfied with the way things are going 'in this country today' and 'in your own life today.'

It's amazing that for a country where public policy is almost always based on the citizen's view of the economy and the direction of the government, Americans were almost evenly divided on the way things are going in the country (51% satisfied, 40% not) but overwhelmingly satisfied with how things are going in their own lives (82% satisfied, 16% not).

In other words, how the government may be screwing up, or the economy tanking, seems almost irrelevant to one's personal life and prospects.

But that 'satisfied' quotient approaches smugness in a time when pending downsizing and possible bankruptcies fill the news.

Those of us wedded to the language of PR - whether the old retro vocabulary of 'find out what the customer wants, and then give it to him' or the new digital-age talk of 'tell the customer what he wants, give him a brand and then reinforce the brand' - will have to consider this new paradigm.

Where ominous trends were once thought to be presaged by poll results and focus groups that say, 'The government doesn't care about people like me' or 'Nothing the government does can affect my life,' we are now confronted with an overwhelming majority that seems to be saying, 'Yes, the government can affect my life (and it's doing it badly), but who cares?'

Perhaps folks just don't think about the government's impact on their retirement funds, or the affect of a market decline on the value of stock options (or even a cut in capital gains taxation, or in sharply reduced earnings for tax and trust lawyers if the estate tax is reduced or repealed).

Either way, PR counsel must take note of the new attitude. President Bush, without a popular vote mandate or even - as seems distinctly possible - the appearance of an electoral vote majority, may have to abandon 'partisanship' or even political parties themselves.

How does the new math translate? 'You can pull up the ladder, bo's'n, we're on board.'



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