A week after the American election, I bumped into a couple on the street who were about to take a walk.
I knew that both had voted for the Democrat, Barak Obama, for president, and I decided to ask how it felt, now that the election had faded from the TV screens and all of the excitement had died down.
It feels really good! the woman-a newspaper publisher-responded.
“We’re planning a trip to Europe”, her husband, a medical researcher, added. “We can dare to travel to Europe again”.
After many difficult years, around the world people are thinking positive thoughts about the United States, Americans, and about America in general.
In Europe, one no longer makes fun of stupid American voters; instead we’re wondering (in the words of Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb): “we’ll see, when a similar thing might ever happen in Europe, when we elect a minority president or prime minister”
As a Finnish friend of mine who has lived for years in the US remarked in a text message: “haters of the U.S. are going to have a more difficult time.”
There is no doubt, that Obama’s election has improved the atmosphere, in the U.S. and worldwide.
A week after the election, 68% of respondents to a USA-today poll had a positive image of Obama, and 65% believed that the state of the country would improve over the next four years.
This, despite Obama’s capturing only 53% of the popular vote. “His reception is something that we have not seen in decades”, said the head to the Pew Institute, Andrew Kohut.
After the elections of Presidents Bush and Clinton, only slightly more than 1/2 of Americans believed the next four years would be an improvement over the last
As we comment on this new era of good feeling, it should be remembered that for many Americans his election was a negative or unimportant event. After all, 46% chose John McCain to be president.
One fifth of voters were worried, and one quarter fearful of an Obama victory. Almost one third stayed away from the voting booth altogether.
Admiring the strong expectations for Obama, one needs to remember where we are starting from. Bush’s support is lower than any departing president, the economy is on the rocks, the country is waging two wars, with a reputation overseas that is the worst its been in decades.
Polls during the election indicate that 75% of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track, and 81% were afraid that the economic crisis would affect their own families.
It’s human nature to expect better, when things are going badly. For many years, surveys have shown that Africans are the most optimistic people in the world.
For example, only 7% of Ugandans described themselves as very satisfied with their lives, but 63% were very optimistic about the future.
The good feeling that’s resulted from Obama’s election is influenced not only by eight years of Bush, but by the 400 difficult years in the New World that African Americans have endured.
Slavery, civil war, segregation, the civil rights movement, and everyday racism are things that cannot be washed away. But Obama’s victory cannot be denied either; it will remain, from hear to eternity, as a part of America’s accomplishments.
That’s why, as president, Obama need not even be very successful. Just the fact hat he was chosen for the presidency is viewed as a credit to the United States and all Americans.
“I might be the first Iranian-American president” daydreamed one child in a radio interview.
Will Obama make 305 million Americans happier, if his administration succeeds in ending wars, increasing the minimum wage, and achieving health care for all?
It’s possible, that in the short term Americans will feel better. But nations have a tendency to be fickle.
According to the PEW-survey, only 25% of Americans were satisfied with the state of their country, compared to 41% in Fall 2002.
What caused more widespread satisfaction 5 years ago? One year before there had been the horrific terrorist attacks, and the stock market had crashed with the end of the IT bubble.
One the other hand, the successful Afghan war was already winding down, the economy seemed to be improving, and preparations for the Iraq war were beginning.
The state of the nation and that of its citizens are two different things. Even though only a quarter of Americans described themselves as satisfied with the direction in which the country was headed, 65% of respondents were satisfied with their own lives. In 2002, this number was nearly identical: 64 percent.
This year one million people will lose their homes, but the other 300 million will only follow the tragedy in the news. 50 million people lack health insurance, but 250 million people have it.
Fear for a less prosperous future is more common. 31% of Americans expect better times for the next generation, while 60% expect their children to be worse of than themselves
In China, only one third of people were happy with their current life, but 83% were happy with the condition of their country and 89% were happy with their government.
International studies of life happiness and satisfaction are not an exact science. The results are treated with skepticism. Many Finns were surprised to learn last year, when a British survey told them that they were the second happiest nation in Europe, after the Danes.
Today Icelanders can refer back to the Economist article from last January, which claimed “You can find it in Island – the secret of happiness”