Public Mood in the US: Significant Differences in Optimism Broken Down by Race
CHICAGO, Aug. 1, 2013 — The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has released results of an analysis of more than four decades of data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and from other public polls, including surveys conducted by The Associated Press. Researchers found that while white Americans have become increasingly pessimistic about the future of the country, blacks and Hispanics have become more optimistic. Some trends show a reversal in the way both whites and minorities view the future.
“All of the discussion about the grim public mood in America has missed the point that not all Americans see the world the same way,” said Trevor Tompson, director of the AP-NORC Center. “Our study suggests that blacks and Hispanics still see hope that the future will bring a better life for their children and grandchildren, while whites fear that future generations may be worse off.”
Critical findings of the survey include:
- Beginning in the first decade of the new millennium, whites have tended to be pessimistic, while blacks and Hispanics tend to be significantly more optimistic about the future.
- The 2008 election appears to have encouraged optimism among blacks, while the economic crisis appears to have spurred pessimism among whites. The trend of pessimism among whites is holding steady in the immediate post-Great Recession period, even as economic conditions slowly improve.
- Confidence in a better future standard of living among whites reached just 46 percent in 2012—the lowest level in this GSS time series on belief that one’s standard of living will improve—and a decline of 21 percentage points since 2006.
- For decades, surveys have assessed the U.S. public’s optimism about the future, and whites have consistently demonstrated greater optimism than blacks. Over the past several years, that has shifted, with whites responding more pessimistically to the economic outlook, especially during the Great Recession which began in late 2007. Blacks responded to Obama’s presidential victory in 2008 with a dramatic surge in optimism.
- The difference in optimism between whites and blacks in 2012 is the largest it has been since the series began in 1987. In 2012, 71 percent of blacks agreed that they have a good chance of improving their standard of living compared to 46 percent of whites—a 25 percentage point difference.
“The implications of this shift in attitudes are important because the public mood is a factor in both politics and economics,” said Jennifer Benz, Senior Research Scientist with the AP-NORC Center. “It will be essential to continue to investigate these trends and understand their causes.”
About the Study
The survey data utilized in this paper come from the General Social Survey (GSS) and The Associated Press (AP). The GSS is administered by NORC at the University of Chicago, primarily using in-person interviewing. The GSS started in 1972 and completed its 29th round in 2012. For the last 40 years, the GSS has been monitoring societal change and the growing complexity of American society. The GSS is the largest project funded by the Sociology Program of the National Science Foundation. The typical sample size was 1,500 prior to 1994, but increased to 2,700-3,000 until 2008 and decreased to 2,000 for the most recent surveys. Resulting margins of error are between +/- 3.1 for the smaller sample sizes and +/- 2.2 percentage points for the larger sample sizes at the 95 percent confidence level. The GSS 1972–2012 Cumulative File was utilized to produce the statistics presented.
AP polls were administered by Ipsos (2003–August 2008) and GfK (October 2008–2012). AP polls are conducted by telephone. Surveys conducted since October 2008 included both landline and cellular interviews. The typical sample size is 1,000 with a +/- 4.0 percentage point margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level. A cumulative datafile created and maintained by AP was utilized to produce the statistics presented.
“Our study suggests that blacks and Hispanics still see hope that the future will bring a better life for their children and grandchildren, while whites fear that future generations may be worse off.”
The Associated Press (AP)
The AP is the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. On any given day, more than half the world’s population sees news from the AP. Founded in 1846, the AP today is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. The AP considers itself to be the backbone of the world’s information system, serving thousands of daily newspaper, radio, television, and online customers with coverage in text, photos, graphics, audio and video.
About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.
Contact: For more information, please contact Eric Young at NORC at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 217-6814 (cell).