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By Elisha Fieldstadt

Two disparate portraits of America have emerged in the 2016 presidential race.

In one, the GOP warns that the U.S. is in dire straits. And the party's nominee, reality TV star Donald Trump, claims only he can pull the country back from the brink. Trump and his supporters clamor to "Make America Great Again" — which begs the question: When was it so great and when exactly did it go downhill?

The Republican National Convention followed this theme, focusing on making America "safe again," "work again," "first again" and "one again" — suggesting that the American people are largely defenseless, unemployed, failing and divided.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Convention had a much different tone.

"America is already great," President Obama declared in a rousing convention speech. "America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness does not depend on Donald Trump."

Hillary Clinton, in her speech accepting the Democratic nomination, acknowledged that the country faces challenges, but she added that the strengths of its citizens will help to make America "greater than ever."

So which is it? Is America in peril or on the path to become better than ever?

Judge for yourself — with the help of nine simple charts:


In his nomination acceptance speech, Trump said that homicides increased by 17 percent in America's 50 largest cities last year. That statistic is accurate, and the homicide increase in those cities is consistent with the increase in murders across the nation last year — a spike of 19 percent, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

The association attributed the jump in part to a lack of support for released prisoners, easy access to guns and, in some cities, failing public schools.

But the big picture shows that murders and other violent crimes have been on a steady decline for the past two decades. The violent crime rate has nearly been slashed in half since 1995, according to the FBI.


Trump wants to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. He launched his campaign last summer by claiming, "The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems." He went on to say that a lot of those problems are coming over the southern border — specifically singling out Mexico. In 2012, about 357,000 people were apprehended at the southwest border and, in 2014, more than 479,000, according to U.S. Border Patrol. But the number decreased to about 331,000 in 2015.

And the number of unaccompanied minors caught at the border was nearly cut in half between 2014 and 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

Pew also found that more Mexican immigrants returned to Mexico than have migrated to the U.S. between 2009 and 2014. The net loss was 140,000 immigrants.


With a spate of recent terror attacks abroad, domestic attacks and the rise of extremist groups like ISIS, Americans may feel unsafe and fearful that terror can touch them anywhere, from a sporting event to their workplace.

Eighteen people died in U.S. terror attacks in 2014, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses for Terrorism (START). Comparatively, nearly 30,000 died in traffic accidents, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

From 1995 to 2003, there were at least 30 terror attacks a year on U.S. soil, according to START. But the annual terror attack tally didn't exceed 20 between 2006 and 2014.

Erin Miller, a program manager with START, told NBC News that the terror attack rates don't follow a single pattern. But some years show a “trend” in types of attacks, she said. In 1996, for instance, a relatively high 62 attacks were carried out in the U.S., half targeting pro-abortion facilities, including clinics.

Race Relations

The deaths of black men and women at the hands of police in recent years have undoubtedly put a microscope on race relations in communities around the country. After two black men were fatally shot by police officers in the span of as many days and two separate police departments faced deadly attacks in as many weeks, Obama worked to assure the public that the U.S. was "not as divided as some have suggested."

Related: Five Times the U.S. Was More Divided Over Race

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll late last year showed perceptions of race relations had reached a 20-year low. Only 34 percent of Americans said race relations were good or very good, down from 77 percent who said race relations were good immediately following Obama's first presidential victory in 2008.

When broken down by race, 61 percent of black Americans believe race relations are bad, while 45 percent of white Americans feel the same, according to Pew.

National Debt

Trump noted in his nomination acceptance speech that the national debt has doubled since Obama took office.

TIME: 5 Things Most People Don’t Understand About the National Debt

The national debt in January 2009 was $10.6 trillion. It is now $19.4 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.


An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in 2014 showed 57 percent of Americans believed the country was still in a recession, even though it had been over for five years. Many Americans still have a grim view of the economy — especially those who are out of work.

But overall employment is about 7 percent higher than when Obama first took office. It's worth noting, however, that many Americans workers have left the labor force as discouraged job seekers have stopped looking and as baby boomers retire.

It’s also worth noting that millions of Americans just aren’t feeling the effects of the economic rebound — and that has a lot to do with geography. Many economists have observed that while major urban areas like New York City and San Francisco are home to booming tech start-ups and thriving real estate markets, wide swaths of the Midwest and the South are struggling to keep up. And the wealth distribution gap is widening. PEW found that nearly half of U.S. income went to upper-middle-class households in 2014, compared with less than a third in 1970.

Still, the economy overall has added more than 9 million jobs since Obama took office — recovering the jobs lost during the recession, and then some.


According to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics data, the high school graduation rate hit an all-time high of 82 percent during the 2012-2013 school-year.

The survey before that, during the 2005-2006 school-year, showed 71 percent of students graduated high school.

The jump is encouraging, but statistics show graduation rates vary greatly by race. Eighty-seven percent of white students graduated in 2012-2013, while 70 percent of Native American students graduated.

Health Care

In the first quarter of 2015, the rate of Americans without health insurance dipped to its lowest point — 11.1 percent — since Gallup started tracking the amount of insured people in 2008. In the third quarter of 2013, the uninsured rate had peaked at 18 percent, according to Gallup.

"The uninsured rate has dropped sharply since the most significant change to the U.S. health care system in the Affordable Care Act — the provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance — took effect at the beginning of 2014," Gallup said.

The Obama administration's law affected all demographics, but the groups that saw the biggest coverage spikes were low-income and Hispanic Americans, who were most likely to lack health insurance, according to Gallup.