AIF Blog

Poll: Americans Losing Their Rose-Colored Glasses

May 29, 2015
Americans are not the can-do optimists they were in the past, a poll commissioned for and discussed at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival found. In fact, with the exception of technology and their children, many of the 2,000 online respondents of the America Looks to 2024 Survey were downright pessimistic when asked about where they thought the country and their lives are heading in the next decade.
Just one-third of those polled said America is on the right track for the next ten years and that it’s still the land of opportunity. Even fewer said that hard work and playing by the rules are the way to get ahead. People believe the wealth gap is going to grow and that today’s kids are going to have a hard time affording college and finding jobs. At the same time, 60 percent said their kids are going to be better off than they are, and 63 percent said advances in technology would make their lives better.
“Americans’ faith in technology is the single unshaken thing in this poll,” said Mark Penn, Microsoft’s chief strategy officer and former White House pollster.
Otherwise, Americans are pessimist about both national and international issues. More people believe that China will be a superpower and the world’s biggest economic force than the United States. Over half think there will be more war, and two-thirds don’t expect Americans to become more unified in the coming decade. They predict gun violence and divorce will be more common, but they also believe that same sex marriage and marijuana will be legal in the majority of US states. They see widespread use of robots, drones, and medicines capable of monitoring changes in the human body — along with higher gas prices and longer airline delays.
“This is a very pessimistic public coming off of ten years of seeing the country going in the wrong direction,” concluded Penn. “They are optimistic about technology but pessimistic about our economic future. They are optimistic that kids will be better off than they were, despite having trouble with education, jobs, inequality, and almost all of the basics of daily living. They expect government to get bigger. They expect continued divisions in society. They expect more of a social consensus, and they look at a future with more robots, drones, and advanced medicines.”
Members of a panel asked to analyze the poll pointed out a few ways in which the results may not be as gloomy as they seem on the surface. Hispanics and millenials — two segments of American society that are on the rise in the workplace and in the economy overall — were more optimistic about the coming decade than other respondents, it was noted.
Atlantic Editor in Chief James Bennet said that several of the results showed more optimism on a micro level than on a macro level — that pluralities of respondents expected to still be married, to be living better, to be healthier, and to have less stress in ten years. The problem is right now, Bennet said, and it’s one of perception. “So maybe people are perceiving that things are getting a little better in own lives, but all the messages they’re getting about what’s happening nationally and globally are so negative that they think everybody else is going to be suffering.”
Moderator Elliot Gerson of the Aspen Institute asked the panelists whether the poll reflected a failure of political leadership. Penn and Don Baer, another strategy and communications expert who has worked in the White House, were somewhat divided. Here’s how they responded:
View the full session here.
By Catherine Lutz, Guest Blogger