American Attitudes, Then and Now

For more than 80 years, pollsters have been asking Americans from all walks of life to share their opinions and experiences on pretty much every imaginable topic. Thousands of those surveys are archived by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.

As the end of 2018, HuffPost wanted to see how things have ― and haven’t ― changed over the past decades. So in conjunction with YouGov, they asked 1,000 Americans today to respond to many of the same queries found in the Roper archives.

Some of the comparisons offer some interesting insights regarding changing American attitudes.

  • Only 31 percent of Americans today say they’ve given a ride to a hitchhiker, down from 43 percent in 1938. I’m actually surprised that the response is as high as 31% today. I remember hitchhiking home from high school a few times, something I would hope no high school student would do today. I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually seen a hitchhiker.
  • Eighty years ago, more than three-quarters of the public believed that married women shouldn’t work if their husbands could support them. Now, just 8 percent feel that way. Now that’s a dramatic change!
  • 39 percent of Americans in 1948 favored the idea of a world government led by the United Nations, but only 11 percent favor such an idea today.
  • In 1958, about half the public said they couldn’t understand why people from other countries would dislike the U.S., today, fewer than a third of Americans still say the same.
  • In 1968, half of all parents said they wouldn’t let their teenage sons grow their hair long. In 2018, just 15 percent of parents still have a problem with long-haired boys.
  • Forty years ago,  65 percent of the respondents felt that Americans were immoral in the amounts of goods and services they consume. Today that number is just 45 percent.
  • In 1978, 60 percent of Americans believed that congressional representatives were basically honest. Today that number is a depressing 15 percent.
  • In 1988, only one percent of Americans believed that using drugs for enjoyment is a good thing, while today 17% of Americans believe that such drug use is OK.
  • Also thirty years ago, 58 percent of those who’d taken a trip of at least 100 miles by air said they considered flying pleasant; just 27 percent of the public now says the same.
  • In the past 20 years, the share of voters who think their neighbor would support a female presidential candidate has increased from 33 to 46 percent.
  • In 2008, thirty-five percent of Americans said they had at least some feelings of racial prejudice. In 2018, 44 percent of Americans reported having at least some racial prejudice.

As you can see, there have been some interesting changes in American attitudes over the past 80 years; some for the better (attitudes towards women) and some for the worst (trust in Congress, racial prejudice).

I know in the past 30 years many of my own attitudes/beliefs/opinions/behaviors have changed, sometimes dramatically.

I’ve become much more liberal in my political beliefs; I’ve developed strong opinions about gun control and incarceration; I’ve become much more aware of the disparities between rich and poor, and how much of that disparity is the result of the luck of birth; I even became a vegan.

I’m not sure if my opinions will change as much in the next 30 years, but it will be interesting to see how overall public opinion changes on key issues.

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