Survey of American values shows major disconnect between classes

Seven in 10 Americans believe the nation’s values have declined since 1940, according to The Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey, conducted by research firm Penn Schoen Berland and in partnership with global public relations and strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller.

The study also showed that young people are still uneasy about business and with the distribution of wealth in the United States. More than half of Americans think the economic system is unfair to middle and working class Americans. Only 35 percent of those age 18 to 29 believed that what is good for business is good for America, compared with 45 percent of those age 45 to 64 and 61 percent of senior respondents over age 65.

Value differences

“These findings demonstrate how years of lackluster economic growth have left young Americans with a deep suspicion of our economic system and less certainty that American business is something that will have a positive impact on their lives,” said Don Baer, Burson-Marsteller Worldwide vice chairman and chief strategy officer and chairman of Penn Schoen Berland. “It’s very concerning that young Americans seem so wary of American business, just as they are trying to enter and establish themselves in the workforce.”

The survey also found that the majority of first generation immigrants and wealthy Americans believe the economic system is fair, while more than half of working and middle class Americans believe the system is unfair for them.

When it comes to political parties, 62 percent of Democrats believe that the primary reason for financial success is having a wealthy family, while an almost identical number of Republicans believe it comes from hard work. Regardless of party, Americans believe that money and lobbyists have too much influence on politics and that elected officials reflect the values of wealthy Americans only.

Majorities from both parties agreed that Wall Street has a different set of values than the average American and that executives who presided over the financial crisis should have gone to prison.

Americans are more accepting of different family situations than they were a decade ago, according to the survey. More people believe that having children out of wedlock, homosexuality, divorce, cloning and abortion are morally acceptable.

Seventy-nine percent of Americans surveyed said that the decline of U.S. manufacturing has negatively affected American values and 69 percent believe that health care is the responsibility of the government, up from just over half in 2009.

Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Billy Graham were the Americans most frequently named as being the individual most representative of American values.

The survey represents 2,000 Americans who were asked to identify the issues that unite and divide the nation.


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