The American Dream rests on the belief that the opportunities are there for people – regardless of race, creed, economic position, or other social identifier – to get ahead based on effort and merit. As it turns out, though, many Americans are skeptical that the American Dream even exists anymore. Just 1 in 2 adults are satisfied with the opportunity for a poor person to get ahead by working hard in this day and age, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released in June 2012. Interestingly, there is almost no variation in this sentiment by age bracket: the most optimistic Americans, aged 35-54, are only 2% points more likely to be satisfied than the least optimistic, who are aged 55 and older (51% and 49%, respectively). Going hand-in-hand with this lack of optimism is a general skepticism about Americans’ willingness to work hard to better themselves: only 52% of adults believe Americans are willing to do so, with the 55 and older group 18% more likely than the average to be positive about Americans’ work ethics.
Majority Dissatisfied With Next Generation’s Prospects
Results from the survey indicate that Americans are even more pessimistic when it comes to the opportunity for the next generation to live better than their parents. 58% of adults on average say they are dissatisfied with the next generation’s prospects, compared to just 40% who are satisfied.
Breaking the results down by age group reveals greater dissatisfaction among older Americans. Those 55 and older are the most dissatisfied (62%), with 35-54-year-olds’ level of dissatisfaction right at the national average. And while 18-34-year-olds (53%) are the least dissatisfied with the next generation’s prospects, a majority remain skeptical.
Optimism Has Risen, Though
Interestingly, despite seemingly low levels of Americans being satisfied with the existence of the American Dream, current figures actually represent a step up when compared to previous years. The 50% satisfaction rate in merit-based opportunity seen this year represents a 32% rise from 38% in 1994, and a 25% rise from 40% in 1992.
Similarly, the proportion satisfied with the next generation’s prospects has rebounded. After falling from 36% in 1992 to just 24% two years later, satisfaction has climbed back to 40% this year.
- Democrats are 30% more likely than Republicans and 37% more likely than Independents to be satisfied with the opportunity for the next generation to live better than their parents (48% vs. 35% and 37%, respectively). They are also 26% more likely than Republicans and 14% more likely than Independents to be confident in Americans’ willingness to work hard to better themselves (59% vs. 47% and 52%, respectively).
- Republicans are the most likely to believe in the American Dream of merit-based opportunity, though. 56% are satisfied with the opportunity for a poor person to get ahead by working hard, compared to 50% of Democrats and 47% of Independents.
About the Data: The USA Today/Gallup poll was conducted from May 10-13, 2012.