Saturday, June 7, 2008

What Americans Think

There is an interesting book from New Strategist Publications called American Attitudes: What Americans Think about the Issues That Shape Their Lives, 5th ed. Price: $89.95. New Strategist also puts out the American Consumers newsletter. Here are some things Americans believe, based on the General Social Survey; the most recent results are from the 2006 survey.

1. We are tough. Among the world's nations, the United States ranks number one in prisoners per capita, yet
68 percent of Americans still think the courts are not harsh enough on criminals.
72 percent agree that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a "good, hard spanking."

2. We want it both ways. Fully 63 percent of the public wants to cut the government's purse strings. Only 13 percent oppose spending cuts. But when asked what we should cut, our enthusiasm wanes. These are the percentages of Americans who want to cut spending by specific program area:
education: 4
health care: 6
retirement benefits: 7
law enforcement: 8
environment: 13
natural disasters: 14
military: 26
arts: 30

3. We are careless. Americans are forever thumping their chests with pride, and the one thing we boast about the most is our freedom. Yet the majority of Americans are willing to give up that freedom without much of a fight:
56 percent think the government probably or definitely should have the right to jail people without a trial.

4. We are religious. Among the world's developed countries, the United States stands alone in its religiosity.
59 percent pray at least once a day.
Only 50 percent believe in evolution.

5. We are hard working. In fact, we are workaholics. This may explain why American workers have so little vacation time compared to their European counterparts and why we do not demand more time off:
70 percent would continue to work even if rich.

6. We are diverse. The Census Bureau continually tells us how diverse we are, but does it matter much anymore?
74 percent of blacks have trusted white friends.
52 percent of whites have trusted black friends.
54 percent of blacks have white family members.
20 percent of whites have black family members.

7. We are alienated. Americans do not have warm and fuzzy feelings toward public officials or their fellow citizens:
Only 35 percent say politicians are interested in the problems of the average person.
Only 32 percent believe most people can be trusted.
80 percent believe others will take advantage of you if you are not careful.

8. We are uptight. Americans have a well-deserved reputation for being prudish about sex:
Only 46 percent believe premarital sex is not wrong at all.
Only 32 percent believe homosexuality is not wrong at all.
But we are also practical:
89 percent support sex education in the public schools.
54 percent think teens should have access to birth control.

9. We like to stay put. Americans live in the third largest country in the world, but they restrict themselves to a very small portion of it.
38 percent still live in the same city they lived in at age 16.
62 percent live in the same state they lived in at age 16.

10. We still dream. Perhaps the single defining characteristic of Americans in both good times and bad is our steadfast belief in the American Dream:
69 percent say hard work, rather than luck or connections, determines success.
70 percent say the United States gives people like them the opportunity to improve their standard of living.

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