It doesn't matter how much good news the U.S. economy has had, many Americans just aren't satisfied. A solid half of all citizens told Gallup they think it is important for the United States to be the world's largest economy. And while that's only a slim majority—49 percent still say it's not important—it's the highest in more than 20 years, and the first time a majority has said that.
Is It Important for the U.S. to Be No. 1 Economically?
What changed since the last time Gallup asked, in 2007? It looks like William Bell was right—you really don't miss your water until your well runs dry. Consider the chart in light of global trends over the last two decades and it starts to look like an inverted barometer of economic might: The better things are, the less Americans care about being No. 1. And the worse things are, the more attached they are to the symbolic top spot on the podium.
At the outset of Gallup's graph, the gap is pretty close. As the post-Cold War pax Americana takes hold, Americans get more and more confident. Why worry about being the top economy when there's no obvious rival and the markets are cruising along? There's a slight blip around the end of the tech bubble and the resulting recession, but pretty soon the trend is right back on track, climaxing in 2007. Then: the fall. Since the great recession, with the American economy still limping, Americans are more worried about reclaiming the top spot.