By Russell Berman - 10/20/10 03:00 AM EDT
Just one in every four voters in 10 battleground House districts says the American Dream is “still there for everyone,” while four in 10 say the dream exists “only for some people,” according to The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll.
Younger voters expressed more optimism than older ones, and men were more upbeat than women. Notably, black voters voiced more optimism than whites, a finding that underscores polling trends since Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first African-American president.
Twenty-six percent of respondents overall said the American Dream “is still there for everyone.” Forty-one percent said the dream is there, “but only for some people”; 21 percent said it no longer exists “for most people”; and 9 percent said it no longer exists at all.
An equal percentage of Republicans and Democrats said the dream existed for everyone, but more black voters, 32 percent, than white voters, 26 percent, responded that way. Thirty percent of voters under age 55 said the dream was there for all, while just 23 percent of older voters agreed.
The findings track other survey results showing that two years of high unemployment, rampant home foreclosures and a growing income inequality have taken a toll on voter optimism. “That’s a very clear pattern we see,” said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.
Pew has asked Americans nationwide over the last 16 years whether they believe their children will have a better standard of living than they currently enjoy, and Taylor said that the responses in recent surveys “are still positive rather than negative, but that gap is much lower now than it has been.”
In May 2010, 45 percent of respondents said their children would be better off, down from 57 percent in 2006. The high-water mark for that question since 1994 came in 2002, when 61 percent of Americans said their children would have a better standard of living than them.
In a Gallup poll that asked a similar question, 62 percent of Americans in January 2010 said that today’s youth were likely to have a better life than their parents. Two years earlier, at the beginning of the recession but before it had taken its toll, 66 percent responded the same way. In December 2001, the percentage of people who said the next generation would be better off stood at a high of 71 percent.
For years, younger Americans have shown more optimism about their future than their elders, Taylor said. The trend has persisted through the recession, which in some cases has hit young adults the hardest, as the post-graduation job market has shrunk.
“You would think, ‘Boy, they’re starting life in pretty tough circumstances — wouldn’t they be bummed out by that?’ ” Taylor asked. “There’s something about this generation of young adults that has made them a very optimistic group,” he added. The phenomenon, he said, is attributed in part to the “empowering” nature of new technology, which young people have seized upon much more enthusiastically than have older Americans.
The gap in optimism between white and African-American voters has been a more recent development, and Taylor said pollsters have found inferential evidence that the higher optimism among black voters is linked to Obama’s election in 2008. “One very clear finding is that even though they have been hit at least as hard by the recession as everyone else, [African-Americans] are comparatively more optimistic about the economic future of the country and their own economic prospects,” Taylor said.
Despite the doubts about the American Dream voiced by respondents in The Hill survey, pollster Mark Penn said that given the depth of the recession and widespread economic uncertainty, the findings could have been worse. “This question did not signal the end of the American Dream,” he said.