The negative turn in views of how things are going in the U.S. comes as the state of the country has become a flashpoint in the 2016 presidential campaign, with the Republican front-runner Donald Trump resting his campaign on a promise to restore America's greatness and national Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton vows to build on the progress Obama has made as president.
Overall, 57% say things in the country today are going badly, while 42% say they're going well. That's a downturn compared to a poll conducted just after Thanksgiving, when 49% said things were going well compared to 50% who said they were going badly.
But none of that seems to be deflating Obama's approval ratings heading into the final year of his presidency.
Obama's approval rating continues to hold in the high 40s, at 47% in this poll with 49% disapproving. That's about the same as it's been over the last few months, and well above the level George W. Bush saw in his final year in office (34% approval in January 2008).
Obama's approval rating rates below Bill Clinton's at this stage in his presidency (64% approved in January 2000), and is about on par with Ronald Reagan's final-year starting point (49% approved in January 1988).
Lack of representation
Pessimism is on the rise as Americans are increasingly likely to say they do not feel represented by the government in Washington. Nearly 8-in-10 say they feel poorly represented by the government, up from 75% saying so in October and 68% in July.
The two questions are sharply related: Among the 40% who say they feel "not at all represented" by government, 79% say things in the country are going badly. While among those who say they feel at least somewhat well represented in Washington, 76% say things are going well.
The increasing negativity about the country's direction comes almost entirely among Republicans and independents. Among Republicans, 88% say things are going poorly, up from 76% in the late-November poll, while among independents, the share saying things are going badly has risen from 50% to 59%. Among Democrats, things are stable: 28% said things were going badly about two months ago, and that figure is now at 27%.
Iran and foreign policy
The partisan strife extends to one foreign policy issue that has also riven the presidential campaign. While most Americans of all parties are in favor of direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran, Republicans are broadly opposed to the decision to lift economic sanctions against the country, while Democrats are widely in favor.
With "Implementation Day" for the Iran nuclear deal come and gone, 69% say they favor a diplomatic approach to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, with 28% opposed to such a tactic.
The findings suggest, however, that successfully reaching a deal and securing the release of four American prisoners held in Iran
in the wake of its implementation has not increased support for diplomacy: Those figures are about the same as they were last March,
when the nuclear deal between Iran and other countries was still being negotiated.
Despite the broad support for diplomacy, Americans are more skeptical about lifting economic sanctions. A narrow majority (52%) opposes the decision to lift some economic sanctions after international inspectors determined that Iran had complied with the terms of the agreement, while 43% favor the decision.
There's a sharp partisan divide on these two questions, though. Majorities across party lines favor direct diplomacy with Iran (78% of Democrats favor it, as do 69% of independents and 60% of Republicans), but there's a massive partisan gap on the question of sanctions, with 76% of Republicans opposed to lifting the sanctions while 64% of Democrats support lifting them.
The CNN/ORC poll was conducted by telephone January 21-24 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.