The latest in a series of biannual polls conducted by Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College over the past decade demonstrates that Wisconsinites view the state of the nation—its institutions and economy—to be of grave concern.

An incredibly low 18 percent of the 400 adults surveyed between March 25th and April 5th view the country to be headed in the right direction, while 77 percent believe it to be headed in the wrong direction. This marks a 4-point drop in those holding an optimistic view, down from 22 percent from WPR’s survey last November. When George W. Bush began his second term back in early 2005, 40 percent of Badger State residents thought the country was headed in the right direction. The 77 percent citing the USA as headed in the “wrong direction” is six points higher than the previous record level—72 percent—documented in the previous two WPR surveys conducted in April and November 2007.

The new poll also shows President Bush with the lowest job approval rating to date—just 31 percent of Wisconsin adults are satisfied with his performance—down from 36 percent last fall and the previous low of 34 percent in April 2007. When Bush began his second term in early 2005, more than half of Wisconsinites (51 percent) were satisfied with his job performance; the president has thus endured a 20-point drop in three years in WPR surveys.

Economic concerns have dominated the Upper Midwest and the country in recent months, and the new WPR poll clearly indicates the economy is foremost on the minds of Wisconsinites when it comes to the 2008 presidential election. In an open-ended question, nearly one-third (32 percent) of Badger State residents cited the economy and jobs as the most important issue in the presidential race—almost more than Iraq (23 percent) and health care (12 percent) combined.

The conventional wisdom holds that such dreary national news spells doom for the party in power—notably the party in control of the presidency. This would normally spell doom for the Republican Party in the presidential race, though the poll also found just 27 percent of Wisconsin adults are satisfied with the job performance of the U.S. Congress, which is controlled by Democrats in both chambers. Though a member of the D.C. community for more than two decades, if John McCain can somehow remake his image back into the “maverick D.C. outsider,” he may be able to rise above the low negative marks the Badger State is giving its national institutions—at least more than his eventual Democratic competitor.