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Poll: America's headed downhill

The State of the Union is pessimistic. According to a new NBC News/WSJ poll, 63% of Americans believe the country is going in the wrong direction.
A man walks past a lit US flag with an umbrella at Times Square as it rains in New York, Nov. 26, 2013.
A man walks past a lit US flag with an umbrella at Times Square as it rains in New York, Nov. 26, 2013.

The State of the Union is pessimistic.

According to a new NBC  News/Wall Street Journal poll, 63% of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared to just 28% who think we’re headed in the right one. When respondents were asked for a word or phrase to describe how they feel the country is headed, 62% used negative phrases. The most frequently used? “Downhill.”

The survey’s results were released midnight on Tuesday, the same day President Obama is set to deliver his fifth State of the Union address.

The commander-in-chief’s approval ratings sit at just 43%, with 68% saying the country is either in the same or worse off since he took office.  Congress fared even worse, with 81% saying they disapproved of the job that Congress is doing with just 13% approving. Although the economy is doing better (the jobless rate is below 7% for the first time in five years), the majority of Americans -- 71% -- said they were dissatisfied with the economy with only 28% saying they were satisfied.

Obama is expected to tackle economic inequality in his address tonight, with White House officials saying the president will praise measures like expanding access to job training programs and will call again for raising the minimum wage.

One silver lining for Obama is that a slight majority of Americans—51%--believe he has a clear agenda. And despite the public’s pessimism on the direction of the country and the leadership in Washington, there’s a slight improvement in how Americans view their own financial situations, with 16% saying they are very satisfied and 45% saying they are somewhat satisfied.

The survey showed that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – battling allegations that his office abused its power – isn’t faring too well either. According to the poll, 29% have a negative impression of the Republican, compared to 22% having a positive one. Back in October, before the allegations blew up, 33% had a positive view while 17% had a negative one. And compared to the NBC/Marist poll two weeks ago, the number of Americans who believe Christie is lying has gone up. Now 44% believe the governor is lying, compared to 33%.

On a separate issue, the survey showed that Americans' opinions about legalizing marijuana are also shifting. The majority –55% -- said they would support legalizing the drug, with 24% saying they would actively support legalization in their state. As with same-sex marriage, there is a generational divide on the issue. According to the survey, 74% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 said they are in favor of legalization with just 38% support  for those over the age of 65.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 20 states and Washington D.C.  Washington State and Colorado legalized the recreational use of the drug following voter referendums in 2012. President Obama told The New Yorker last week that he doesn’t think marijuana “is more dangerous than alcohol.” He added, however, “it’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”