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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending April 25, 2015

Only 37% of Likely U.S. Voters think America’s best days are still to come. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the nation’s future.

Surprisingly, that’s the highest level of “optimism” in two years. But 45% still think the country’s best days have already come and gone. Consider, too, that even in January 2004, just over two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 48% still felt America’s best days were in the future, and only 35% believed they had already passed us by.

Just 32% of voters now think the country is heading in the right direction. Twice as many (62%) believe America's on the wrong track. That’s consistent with weekly findings for the past couple years.

Perhaps the continuing pessimism is due in part to a belief, as Ronald Reagan once put it, that government is the problem, not the solution. Most voters (62%) still prefer a smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes over a larger one with more services and higher taxes. That’s in line with surveys for years. Only 27% prefer a larger government instead.

For many, if not most, in this country, achieving a middle class lifestyle is the American dream. Forty-one percent (41%) of Americans think being middle class is determined by how much money you make. But slightly more (43%) say being middle class means you are self-supporting, self-reliant and free of dependence on the government

However, nearly two-out-of-three Americans now believe the government has too much power in this country and that too many of their fellow countrymen are dependent on the government for financial support.

So how do we keep getting more and more government even though we clearly don’t want it?

Social Security is a classic example. Back in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson decided to merge the Social Security trust fund into the general budget, so that money we paid solely for our future retirement could be spent any way Congress and the president wanted. You’ll never guess what happened. For a number of years now, we’ve been faced with the very real possibility that there won’t be enough money for promised Social Security payouts. Gee, wonder where our money went.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in an effort to raise his political profile has now proposed lowering or eliminating benefits for wealthy retirees to help keep Social Security financially afloat even though they paid their money into the system over the years just like everybody else. Is it any wonder voters suspect that any savings earned from proposed changes in Social Security won't be used to benefit the federal retirement system anyway but will just go to new spending on something else?

Seventy-six percent (76%) are also concerned that the plan to lower or eliminate Social Security payments to wealthier Americans may later be extended to include those who earn less.

This bigger and bigger government also doesn’t seem to care what voters think about illegal immigration. Most still oppose President Obama’s plan to exempt up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, with more than ever saying he doesn’t have the legal authority to take such action.

The president’s daily job approval index, by the way, remains in the negative teens.

The number of voters who believe terrorists are winning the fight against the United States and its allies also continues to grow, while views of Muslims in general and U.S. relations with the Islamic world have worsened.

Speaking of the war on terror, remember the problems exposed a year ago at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the unusually long waits for medical care that many military veterans suffered. The majority of voters think most of the problems at the VA remain unsolved.

Congress is now embroiled in a debate over legislation that would give the president more power to negotiate free trade deals with other countries. Republicans are in the very rare position of arguing for more power for Obama, while Democrats are in the equally rare position of opposing it.

Americans are a little less enthusiastic about free trade, even though they admit it’s better for consumers. But they’re also more likely now to see it as a job killer.

The Senate on Friday approved the long-delayed nomination of federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch to be the next U.S. attorney general. While Democrats have complained about the hold-up on the nomination, voters have been in no bigger hurry than the Republican-led Senate to make Lynch the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Voters are sure about one thing when it comes to Lynch, though: They don’t want her to be like retiring Attorney General Eric Holder

Republicans have a one-point lead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. The GOP has led for six of the last eight weeks.

In other surveys last week:

-- For White House hopefuls, what’s in a name?

-- Americans rely on the Internet for more and more things in their daily lives, but most want to keep voting offline.

-- Most Americans continue to believe in the importance of April 22 as Earth Day, although far fewer do anything to celebrate it. They still feel, though, that individuals can make an environmental difference.

-- Americans see a need for big lifestyle changes to protect the environment, but very few think that's likely to happen, especially if it costs them more money.

-- Nearly half of Americans dislike teachers' unions, but they're less upset that teachers belong to them.

-- An Egyptian court this week handed down the first guilty verdict and sentencing to ousted President Mohammed Morsi for his role in the arrest and torture of protesters in 2012. American opinions of Egypt’s relationship with the United States haven’t changed, but voters are slightly more confident about the future of Egypt’s democracy than they were just after the violence there reached its peak.

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