ABC News and the Washington Post split the costs of a national poll that runs on an occasional basis. The latest version took a snapshot of public opinion from March 10-13.
Question No. 10 was particularly interesting:
"As far as the future is concerned, thinking about our system of government and how well it works - is this something you feel generally optimistic about, generally pessimistic about, or uncertain about?"
Only 26 percent were optimistic. Another 23 percent were pessimistic.
ABC News reported that the optimism level has never been lower in the poll, which dates to August 1974.
That is remarkable considering all the bad times we have had over the last 36 years.
In August 1974, Richard Nixon resigned as president in disgrace, the Vietnam War was lost, and the rate of inflation was 10.9 percent as the economy hit an iceberg.
Still, 55 percent of Americans were optimistic and only 15 percent were pessimistic. As I recall, people felt that Nixon's resignation showed that the system worked.
Or consider February 1983, when unemployment hit 10.4 percent.
Optimism was at 51 percent, pessimism at 21 percent.
President Reagan would not allow the American people to get down on themselves.
Or consider January 2008, when Americans were sick of the wars and sick of President Bush. Optimism was much higher - 44 percent - than pessimism, which stood at 23 percent.
Looking at the numbers, I noticed that the pessimists remain about the same at 22 percent or so in each poll.
I also noticed that optimism is usually around 50 percent, never falling below 44 percent until last October, when it fell to 33 percent.
Uncertainty was never higher than 33 percent for 36 years until last October, when it rose to 46 percent. It is at 49 percent today.
What's going on?
We are more uncertain today than at any time going back to the era of President Ford.
All this talk about the worst recession since the Great Depression is smug nonsense aimed at self-pity.