Who Are the 10% Who Think U.S. on Right Track?

The new NEWSWEEK poll shows that 86 percent of adult Americans are "dissatisfied with the way things are going" in this country. That is a shocking number, but what's even more incredible is that 10 percent of American citizens continue to be "satisfied." Consider the implication: more than 22 million men and women think the country is on the right track.

Who are these people? One in 10 Americans can't be repo men or Bush relatives. Satisfied? Now? Nobody's that Republican. Do these 10 percenters live in caves without TV, magazines, newspapers and the Internet—yet somehow still have a phone so that pollsters can reach them? And if you lived in a cave without HBO, would you really be "satisfied"?
The obvious guess is that the responders misunderstood the question. So maybe a few old ladies thought the nice NEWSWEEK pollster said, "Are you sad it's tied?" And they said, "Yes," because they thought their guy had a big lead. If that's true, Gallup had the same problem: their poll found 9 percent were satisfied.

Meanwhile people are selling their gold teeth and losing their homes. Corporate behemoths like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns—even Linens 'n Things—have been swallowed up or bitten the dust. EBay is laying people off, the Postal Service is talking about layoffs—and yet over 22 million people are satisfied with how things are going? I guess if you worked for Bed, Bath & Beyond, you'd be happy about the Linens 'n Things thing, but is that kind of schadenfreude good for America?

Maybe the people who are satisfied just can't admit to what's happening. Seriously, who could have predicted that giving out loans like Halloween candy to people with mini-salaries to buy mini-mansions—who then used their home equity to buy gas-guzzling Hummers—would ever backfire?

"Satisfied" is not a puny word. It's what you'd say after a great steak dinner or when your team wins the World Series. So perhaps these people are just eternal optimists, the type who make Norman Vincent Peale look like Sylvia Plath. We all have friends who say stuff like, "Turn that frown upside down," or mimic the woman from the movie "Office Space" who said, "Uh-oh, sounds like somebody's got a case of the Mun-days."

It's easy to keep bloviating about these mysterious 10 percenters from afar … which is why I've been doing it. But in these heady times, when mainstream journalism strides like a colossus across the American landscape, NEWSWEEK spared no expense or effort to get the real story—so I took the elevator downstairs, walked a block to the White House and talked to some tourists.

One of the first people I met was "satisfied," but she'd also been drinking that afternoon and wouldn't let me use her name. (I directed her to the closest bar.) Later I found a really sweet couple satisfied with the way things are going in America, because they live in Canada. Then I talked to Warren DeSmidt, 65, of Cedarburg, Wis., who quite convincingly told me he thinks the economic mess is just "a bump in the road … and order will be restored." Lynda Race, of Arlington, Va., who is "almost 50," boiled it down: "I love America. Where else would you be more satisfied?" By the end of my interviews, I agreed with their criticisms of the media and with the fact that Chris Matthews has totally lost it.

I'm betting the NEWSWEEK poll's 10 percenters are like the ones I met on Pennsylvania Avenue: überoptimists who see this financial-core meltdown as "just a flesh wound," like the Black Knight in Monty Python's "Holy Grail" who keeps fighting after King Arthur lops off his arms and legs. "I've had worse," the knight says. So has the United States, and maybe that's what the "satisfieds" understand that the rest of us don't.