In other words, a greater number of Americans are worried about diminishing U.S. influence today than in the face of feared Soviet technological superiority in the late 1950s, the Vietnam quagmire of the late 1960s, the 1973 oil embargo, the apparent resurgence of Soviet power around the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, and the economic concerns that plagued the late 1980s -- the five waves of so-called declinist anxiety that political scientist Samuel Huntington famously identified.
Many analysts have attributed Americans' current anxiety to the aftershock of waging two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the polls actually reflect something deeper and more potent -- a legitimate, increasingly tactile uncertainty in the minds of the American people created by changes in the world and in America's competitive position, which they feel far more immediately than do the participants in Washington policy debates. Average Americans do not experience the world through the lens of great-power rivalry or U.S. leadership abroad, but rather through that of an increasingly competitive globalized labor market, stagnating income growth among the middle class, and deep and unresolved worries about their children's future. A recent CNN poll, for instance, found that Americans think by a 2-to-1 margin that their children's lives will be worse than their own. They are questioning the promise of growth and expanding opportunity -- the very substance of the American dream.