January 25, 2005

Trends 2005: A look at changes in American life

A new survey of the core values of the American public has found that beliefs about national security are now twice as important as economic, social or religious values in shaping people’s partisan identification. Five year ago, these national security attitudes barely registered as a correlate of partisanship. The findings, which are presented in a reference book published today entitled “Trends 2005,” come from a new survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center. Pew polling found that differing views about the war in Iraq and about the best way to combat terrorism in the post-September 11 era are principally responsible for creating a huge 44 percentage point partisan gap in national security attitudes. Republicans are now more hawkish and Democrats more dovish than at any time in the past two decades. The survey also found that partisan gaps in basic attitudes toward government – a key point of difference between Democrats and Republicans for generations – have narrowed, a change driven largely by a growing pro-government sentiment among traditionally anti-government Republicans. . The book examines current developments and long-term trends in politics, religion and public life; the media; the growing Hispanic population; state policy; and national and global public opinion. It is the first publication of the Pew Research Center, a independent, non-partisan,Washington, DC-based “fact tank” established last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based public charity, to house six previously separate information projects. The book contains seven chapters and more than 150 tables, charts, graphs and maps. A list of chapters, with a sampling of key findings, follows.

The American Public: Opinions and Values in a 51%-48% Nation

  • In December, 2004, there was 44 percentage point partisan gap on the question of whether peace is best achieved through military force (the dominant Republican view) or diplomacy (the dominant Democratic view). In 1999, that gap was just 16 percentage points.
  • Sharp contrasts between partisans over national security notwithstanding, the new Pew survey found that fundamental American values still reflect a mix of both consensus and contention; there is broad public agreement, for example, about the importance of religion, the power of the individual and the need for environmental protection.

    Religion & Public Life: A Faith-Based Partisan Divide

  • While national security is the dominant political value, religious practice has become the most important demographic characteristic in shaping electoral behavior. Despite the fact that the great majority of Americans are religious and believe in God, whether a person regularly attends church correlated much more strongly with his or her vote for president last year than did such demographic characteristics as gender, age, income and region.
  • Historically, religious fissures in the political arena tended to occur along denominational lines, but in the modern era, they play out by level of religious commitment. Those who are more religious tend to be Republicans; those who are less religious tend to be Democrats.

    Media: More Voices, Less Credibility

  • In the past two decades, the public has lost more confidence in the media than in any other major institution in American society – including government, business, religion, education, the military and others.
  • Increasingly, the public can now turn to news outlets that reflect their own ideology and political beliefs. Republican, in particular, are turning more to the Fox News Channel. But the new and greater variety of choices – on television, in print, and on the internet – has not stemmed the media’s credibility problems; it has only exacerbated them.

    Internet: The Mainstreaming of Online Life

  • On a typical day at the end of 2004, 70 million American adults logged onto the internet, a 37 percent increase over the number who did so in 2000.
  • Even as the online population continues to grow dramatically, the basic ways that people use this revolutionary and versatile technology have remained fairly constant over the past five years; it is most of all a mail pigeon, then a library, then an amusement park, then a shopping center.

    Hispanics: A People in Motion

  • As of 2004, there were 40.4 million Hispanics in this country, or 14 percent of the total U.S. population; making Latinos the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group.
  • Latino immigrants have birth rates twice as high as those of the rest of the U.S. population, foretelling a sharp increase ahead in the percentage of Latinos who will be in schools and the work place. Between now and 2020, Latinos are expected to account for about half the growth of the U.S. labor force.

    States: Policy Innovation Amid Fiscal Constraint

  • On issues ranging from health care to education to the environment to stem cell research to gay marriage, states are embarking on a different policy course from that of the federal government. They are being driven sometimes by ideology and often by fiscal pressure.
  • The familiar red state/blue state map that portrays stark divisions in the presidential electorate doesn’t work nearly as well at the next level down of government. Some blue states have red governors and vice versa; and state legislatures are evenly-matched in their partisan makeup.

    Global Opinion: The Spread of Anti-Americanism

  • After a brief uptick following the September 11 attack, opinions about the United States have fallen precipitously in nearly every corner of the globe.
  • Even though people around the world are increasingly distrustful of U.S. foreign policy motives, these same publics believe the world is safer because no single nation can challenge the U.S. militarily.
    The Pew Research Center is made up of the following six projects: the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press; Stateline.org; the Pew Internet & American Life Project; the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; the Pew Hispanic Center; and the Pew Global Attitudes Project. All six projects contributed to the new reference book.