Mark Blumenthal | May 21, 2009
Topics: Pew Research Center
This morning the Pew Research Center released an update of its long running survey measuring trends in political values and attitudes (overview, questionnaire, complete PDF report). The Pew Center releases so many length reports so frequently that we can easily overlook their more significant efforts, but this report is especially noteworthy because it combines (1) a long-time series study spanning more than 20 years, (2) a large number of questions asked consistently about a very comprehensive list of values and attitudes, (3) huge sample sizes (7,127 interviews this year for the estimates of party ID, 3,013 interviews for the values study) and (4) the very high quality of sampling, data collection and analysis that Pew is known for. So for those who follow public opinion, today's report is truly a must read.
"The lead," as Pew Research president Andrew Kohut explained in a briefing yesterday, "is that centrism has emerged as a dominant factor in public opinion." The percentage of adults who describe their party identification as independent -- 36% so far in 2009 -- equals its highest level in 70 years." Meanwhile, Republican numbers "have dropped precipitously" since 2004, while the Democratic numbers though markedly improved during the Bush years have 'fallen off a little bit" since November 2008. Meanwhile, basic measures on other political attitudes remain stable. From the report:
The latest values survey, conducted March 31-April 21 among 3,013 adults reached on landlines and cell phones, finds that there has been no consistent movement away from conservatism, nor a shift toward liberalism -- despite the decline in Republican identification. In, fact, fewer Americans say the government has the fundamental responsibility to provide a safety net than it did two years ago, and the share supporting increased help for the needy, even if the debt increases, has declined.
Some of the most powerful data in the report concerns the intersection of long term trends and the attitudes of younger Americans.
Republicans are aging. The average age of Republican identifiers inceased by nearly four years since 1990, while the age composition of Democrats has held steady.
Social conservatism is in decline, especially among the young. The survey shows a continuing long term decline on five questions used to track "social conservatism" (questions about school boards firing homosexual teachers, banning books with "dangerous ideas" from libraries, returning women to "traditional roles in society" holding "old fashioned values about family and marriage," and the existence of "clear guidelines about what's good or evil"). The remarkable chart shown below shows both a decline among specific age cohorts over time and the progressively lower levels of social conservatism among each younger age cohort.
The same generational trends are evident on racial attitudes. Consider one item on interracial dating:
These are just the highlights. The report is long (over one hundred pages) and meaty, but well worth reading in full.