When taking the temperature of the public's outlook about the overall state of the nation, most pollsters use one of two time-tested approaches: Asking people how "satisfied" they are with the way things are going in the country or asking people to say whether the country is headed in the "right direction" or is on the "wrong track." The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Gallup Organization rely on the measure of satisfaction, while major broadcast networks and their print partners (ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, NBC/Wall Street Journal) ask the public whether the country is headed in the right direction or on the wrong track.
Over most of the past two decades, these two measures tended to offer the same general results—when the public's mood is bright, both move up, and when things look gloomy both move down. But occasionally these measures diverge, and since last fall's election, the percentage saying the country is generally headed in the right direction has consistently surpassed the percentage expressing satisfaction with national conditions.
In early March, nearly twice as many people said the country was moving in the right direction as said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the country. Reflecting their positive views of President Obama, Democrats are now much more positive than Republicans about the country's course, and are much more optimistic than they were before the election.
The divergence between these measures is unusual, though not unprecedented.
Read the full report Unusually Wide Gap in ‘Satisfaction,' ‘Right Direction' Measures on the Pew Research Center's Web site.