Is the United States, the world's lone superpower, starting to fade, losing its way, its influence and its luster?
It's an issue that's gaining traction and perhaps starting to touch the American soul, with the U.S. retreat on the world stage a possible issue in this year's mid-term elections, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.
Our polling shows that Americans do feel the glory is fading and that the country has been in decline for about a decade now. In this month's IBD/TIPP Poll, nearly two-thirds (65%) think America's global influence is on the wane. And the sentiment is broad, with 53% of Democrats sharing this view, 77% of Republicans and 68% of Independents.
Other data collected in our polls support the notion of a declining America beginning in 2005.
An IBD/TIPP index that measures Americans' satisfaction with the country's direction shows persistent pessimism beginning in 2004. The yearly average for this index has stayed in pessimistic territory 10 years in a row.
The IBD/TIPP Standing in the World Index gauges Americans' view of how the country is seen by the rest of the world. It asks respondents: "Over the next six months, do you think that the position of the United States as a world leader will be better, worse or about the same as now?"
The index ranges between 0 and 100. A score above 50 indicates optimism, while an index reading below 50 indicates pessimism. The yearly average of this index has stayed below 50 for eight of the last nine years and in 2013 hit a new low of 38.6.
IBD/TIPP's National Outlook Index, a measure of the overall outlook for the country, has consistently stayed below the neutral score of 50 since 2005.
The U.S. economy and its standing in the world show the two faces of the decline.
While GDP grew 28% from $13 trillion in 2005 to $16.8 trillion in 2013, the national debt grew much faster: 111% from $7.9 trillion to $16.7 trillion during the same period. In 2011, Standard & Poor's downgraded the nation's credit rating from the much-coveted AAA status to AA+. Dysfunctional policymaking in Washington was cited as the factor motivating the downgrade.
Americans' dissatisfaction with the subpar performance of the economy is the driving force behind their lack of confidence. Since 2005, the IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index has averaged below 50 for nine years in a row.
A persistently weak job market also propels the negative sentiment. Since we began tracking job numbers in May 2010, our work has shown that over 20% of households have at least one person looking for a full-time job. Though the recession officially ended in June 2009, most Americans, month after month, believe we are still in a downturn.
The limited role played by the U.S. in Syria and Ukraine is also seen as evidence of its lost glory. Meantime, countries such as China and Russia have grown economically and in their influence on world affairs. The recent pullback in U.S. defense spending and our inability to deploy our military on multiple fronts also raise concerns.
There's little doubt America's power and standing in the world are fading, but is this good or bad for the world? In our poll, four of five think it's bad, and only one in 10 think it's good.
Is the decline reversible? Here, we find a positive note. Eighty-six percent of those who believe America is on the decline think the decline can be reversed. Only 8% think it's irreversible.
There are a number of actions that can help pull us out of the decline. One is a strong and consistent foreign policy. Another is strengthening the job market through sound economic policies. We did it in the post-Carter era, another time of malaise, and we can do it again.
•Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll, the most accurate in two of the last three presidential elections.