The Frustration Index: What's Bugging America

Political and economic frustration fuel public discontent.

ByABC News
June 7, 2010, 5:08 PM

June 8, 2010 -- Starting today on Good Morning America, ABC News is reporting a new measure of public discontent in this country, something we're calling America's Frustration Index. The bottom line: Fueled by political and economic discontent alike, it's running high.

The Frustration Index: Full Analysis and Charts

We've created this index by combining four central measures in public attitudes in ABC News/Washington Post polls – views of the president's job performance, ratings of the national economy, anti-incumbent sentiment and dissatisfaction with the way the government's working.

See the Full Analysis of Our Latest Political Poll Here

Each of these components correlates with broader public sentiment; they're closely aligned, for instance, with views on whether the country is headed in the right direction or seriously off on the wrong track. They also correlate with two key election outcomes – the rate at which incumbents are reelected and the loss or gain of House seats by the incumbent president's party.

We're computing the Frustration Index on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher numbers indicating greater political discontent. (It's produced by subtracting the percentage of positive answers to each of the four questions from the percent negative, adding the results and dividing by four; then, to produce the scale, adding 100 and dividing by two.)

Given the absence of past polls in which all four index questions were asked together, we've computed previous index numbers since 1992 using instances when all four questions were asked within at least three months of one another. We've also used other, highly correlated data to estimate the index at the time of each presidential or midterm election.

The Frustration Index started this period at 73 out of 100 in spring and fall 1992, as economically stressed voters prepared to deny then-President George H.W. Bush a second term. While it then eased a bit, the index was a still-high 63 just before the 1994 midterm elections, when – frustrated by the slow pace of economic recovery – voters handed control of the House and Senate to the Republicans for the first time in 42 years.

As the economy picked up steam, frustration eased. The index fell to 50 in 1997 and dropped to its low, 39, in 1998 – when, not coincidentally, the re-election rate of House incumbents was its highest across this period, 98.3 percent. (The re-election rate was its lowest, 88.3 percent, in 1992, when, again not coincidentally, the Frustration Index was very high.)