Do Democrats now have the corner on optimism?

A new Pew survey finds that supporters of Hillary Clinton are markedly more optimistic about the present – and future – than those of Donald Trump.

Neal Menschel/File
Democratic National Convention attendee Priscilla Chavez reacts in the Wells Fargo Center on July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Penn. A new Pew study reports that more supporters of Hillary Clinton than supporters of Donald Trump say that life has gotten better over the past 50 years "for people like them."

In this year's presidential elections, the Democratic and Republican candidates are offering up radically different policy agendas. And as a new Pew Center survey of their supporters shows, they are appealing to equally contrasting notions of the nation’s current state, and where it is likely to go. 

Eighty-one percent of registered voters who support Republican nominee Donald Trump say that compared to 50 years ago, life has gotten worse for "people like them in America" – however respondents chose to define it. Sixty-eight percent of them believe that the future of the next generation of Americans will be worse.

By contrast, supporters of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton tend to be sunny in their estimation of the nation's path, with 59 percent saying life for people like them has gotten better over that same time span, compared to 19 percent who believed it had gotten worse and 18 percent who saw minimal change. They may be a bit more apprehensive about the future, however: 38 percent said they thought life would be better for the next generation, while 28 percent said it would be the same and 30 percent saw it getting worse.

These dueling ideas about the country's course have found expression in the nominees' campaigns – though as the Pew Center notes, little has changed in voters' responses since March, which could mean the nominees have done relatively little to shape public opinion on these matters since then.

At the Republican National Convention in July, Mr. Trump conjured a nation that had "endured domestic disaster…[and] lived through one international humiliation after another," positing himself as its only hope for stability, according to a transcript of his speech from The Washington Post.

At the Democrats' convention, meanwhile, optimism was the theme.

"We don't fear the future; we shape, embrace it, as one people, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own," President Obama told attendees.

Mrs. Clinton offered a cheery if bland corrective to Mr. Trump's pessimism, saying it was "up to us" to assuage the country's "fraying," and channeling Franklin D. Roosevelt's assurance that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," according to The New York Times.

The difference in how supporters of the two candidates feel seems to correlate partly to their opinions on immigration and terrorism. Some two-thirds of Trump supporters say the two issues are "very big" problems in the United States. Just 17 percent of Clinton supporters say the same of immigration, and 36 percent of terrorism.

Another factor behind the contrast could be the economies of the regions where they tend to live. In urban areas, where the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis has often been more robust – and where populations tend to be more Democratic – people are more likely to say that the economy is getting better, a Gallup survey found last September.

"Small-town and rural America are decidedly dour about the direction of the nation's economy, while large urban and dense suburban places tilt positive or, at worst, just slightly negative," the polling firm wrote at the time. 

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