May 24, 2021 6:00am

Power Poll Tennessee: Rah, Rah, The Future is Bright

But There's Reason to Be Terrified

Photo of Bruce Dobie
Knoxville, TN Correspondent

Power Poll members across Tennessee like the job President Joe Biden is doing, think the economy is on the upswing, and feel our lives are "much better" than they were at the beginning of the year. Looking towards the future, most Power Poll respondents say they are going to start requiring workers back in the office fairly soon, which in itself is a statement about normalcy. Say goodbye to 20-somethings Zooming from home in their PJ's.

But one response was downright shocking. A sizable 26% of Power Pollers agreed with this statement: "The long-term trend of the United States is decidedly downward and I am deeply pessimistic about our prospects for many reasons." That one-fourth of the Power Poll audience thinks we are essentially washed up—late-stage Rome—is alarming. Again, most think otherwise, but still...


These were the latest results of our May Power Poll taken in all our Tennessee markets (Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, and Power Poll members drawn from every other county in the state).

Here are the specific questions and answers, with responses listed first for the overall statewide results and then the results for Knoxville broken out in parentheses.


Question #1: Power Poll this month is asking for your general feelings about the direction of Tennessee and of the nation. For starters, President Joe Biden recently passed the 100-day mark in office. How do you rate his performance in office so far?

• Approve: 70.3% (61.8%)

• Disapprove: 24.1% (32.7%)

• No opinion either way: 5.6% (5.5%)



Question #2: The economy is exhibiting a number of mixed signals with regard to growth, new hires, and inflation. For the remainder of the year, in your particular workplace, do you see economic conditions:

• Improving: 61.3% (54.4)

• Staying the same: 28.6% (32.5%)

• Declining: 10.2% (13.2%)



Question #3: Some practices adopted during COVID may become permanent fixtures in the workplace. Take remote work, for example. For the remainder of the year, will your workplace:

• Have no workers coming into an office setting, with all working remotely: 3.5% (0.9%)

• Have some workers working remotely, and some working in an office, which is a higher remote workforce than prior to COVID: 40.5% (27.4%)

• Have all workers return to the office at some point prior to the end of the year: 31.5% (54.9%)

• Not applicable: 24.5% (16.8%)



Question #4: The turbuluence that the nation has faced in recent months and years (COVID, racial unrest, Donald Trump's impeachment and the insurrection, etc.) were of a historically huge nature. Do you feel:

• That is all behind us now and the future is bright. I am highly optimistic: 0.8% (0.9%)

• We have rounded the corner, work remains to be done, but overall things are much better: 55.7% (55.5%)

• Some things may have gotten better, but I predict stock market collapse, environmental devastation, or some other similarly huge event that will put us back in crisis mode as before: 18% (13.6%)

• The long-term trend of the United States is decidedly downward and I am deeply pessimistic about our prospects for many reasons: 25.5% (30.0%)



A total of 1,639 Power Poll members in Tennessee were surveyed, with 662 responding, for a response rate of 40.39%. The Power Poll is not a scientific poll. It is, however, a non-partisan survey that asks questions of highly influential and powerful people in Tennessee cities and other cities around the nation. Members include publicly elected officials, business CEO's, non-profit heads, important members of the media, activists, community volunteers, and more. The answers afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts and opinions of the people who steer our communities.



What a difference a vaccine makes. Joe Biden got this right. If there was a "sine qua non" to fixing the country, it was getting the virus under control. And to do that, Biden had to get large numbers vaccinated. Mission accomplished.

Deaths, new cases, hospital capacity—the metrics to which we awoke daily not so long ago have now vanished from our news diet. We are getting on with getting on.

Biden gets very high approval ratings for his first 100 days in office from Power Poll members. His shining star can only last so long, but getting the virus under control and passing his massive stimulus package out of the gates have put us in frame of mind to like the guy. His avuncular decency, following in the wake of Trump's self-centered indecency, has done him many favors.

As to the economy, we're bullish. And for good reason. The economy is awash with so much stimulus money that we can't help but heat up. That itself is reason to be concerned about inflation, not to mention a scarce labor market. Many argue that the dollars distributed to low-income wage-earners have caused them to exit the labor market, rather than participate in it, which is causing a labor shortage. Check that box for a Republican Party talking point.

Future economic patterns also revealed themselves in this survey. A lot of employers are going to start requiring employees back in the office after this year of stay-at-home work, which has got to be good news for the commercial office real estate industry. Other employers, though, will adopt a hybrid approach, with workers alternating days at home and at work. My personal opinion: It's going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle on this one. Too many factors, including the invention of the laptop computer (duh), augur for more people working remotely.

Finally, back to the highly pessimistic response from Power Pollers who see us as essentially on the downside of the American experiment. Again, one-quarter of respondents felt that our long-term trend as a nation is "decidedly downward." As if to add to the doomsaying, another 18% felt that "some things may have gotten better, but I predict stock market collapse, environmental devastation, or some other similarly huge event that will put us back in crisis mode as before."

At the same time, over 50% say, "We have rounded the corner, work remains to be done, but overall things are much better."

True, we are bruised and battered, having dealt with a raging virus, a dishonest president, a dysfunctional Congress, an economy in tailspin, and mental health issues out the wazoo. Many of us, in our own paths of life, have dealt with social isolation, family strife, and financial woes. At times our reality has seemed apocalyptic, other-worldly, fractured. That has taken its toll. We bear the scar tissue of a very long year or more, and lots of Power Pollers aren't as rosy about our national prospects as they once were.

The residue of this grisly pandemic and our national political dysfunction have yet to flush from our minds. That residue may remain forever. It is still so fresh as to color our outlook. Power Pollers are usually a bullish and optimistic lot, but we have many Cassandras saying they are wary and concerned.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

More on This Poll

More Polls

More on This Poll