A new and unique analysis of the national mood shows Americans had plunged into a deep gloom in election year 1980 -- deeper than the Watergate-inflation doldrums of 1974.
But the gloom has turned sharply to optimism in the first spring of the Reagan administration -- though not yet nearly as high a sense of bouyancy and anticipation as in President Carter's first months in 1977.
The novel index of how we are doing as a nation -- or "the gross national spirit" (GNS) -- was fashioned by the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut. It attempts to reflect Americans' personal and national confidence in a manner similar to the way the consumer price index, gross national product, or the index of leading economic indicators trackseconomic trends
The national optimism index is a composite of survey data in six areas -- personal satisfaction, family financial shape, how the nation is doing now, whether national conditions will improve in the future, the national economic outlook, and how the political leadership -- particularly the President -- is doing.
The index shows that:
* Despite the nation's troubles in the '70s, Americans have been remarkably secure in their sense of how they are doing personally. They continue to hold a high basic commitment to their nation. But they have been deeply disappointed in their political leadership's performance.
* President Reagan's election, like Mr. Carter's appears to be follwed by a bubble of optimism that national economic performance, chiefly, will either sustain or experience a new burst.
(Survey data from the National Opinion Research Center, the Institute for Social Research, and the Yankelovich and Gallup organizations were used to construct the post-Watergate GNS index.)
"The current 'How are we doing?' figures are middle of the pack for the malaise decade that we've been through," says Everett Ladd, director of the Roper Center. "People have been saying they're angry -- though you can't take their responses literally. The data show symbolic floggings of leaders. People don't think their leaders are going a good job.
"But if you ask people in more serious, underlying ways, 'Have you given up on your nation?' They say, 'No.' Confidence in the nation has stayed high. Personal satisfaction has stayed high. But the sense of the nation's performance has stayed low the last 14 or 15 years."