Harris Alienation Index Remains Lower than It Was for Most of the Last 20 Years

New York, N.Y. – August 10, 2010 – A new Harris Poll finds that the level of alienation among Americans remains, as it was in 2009, somewhat lower than it was for most of the years that George W. Bush was president, and all of the years when Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush were in the White House.

Almost every year since 1966, the Harris Poll has measured how alienated Americans feel and then calculated the Harris Alienation Index based on the results. The questions measure how much, or how little, people feel their interests are heard and addressed by people with power and influence. This year the Harris Alienation Index stands at 52, compared to 53 last year and 58 in 2008 when George W. Bush was still president. These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 1,066 adults surveyed by telephone between July 13 and 18, 2010 by Harris Interactive.

The Index is based on replies to five questions, which show only modest changes since last year.

  • 68% of all adults believe the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, compared to 66% last year;
  • 50% believe that the people running the country don’t really care what happens to you, compared to 53% in 2009;
  • 53% believe that most people in power try to take advantage of people like you compared to 57% last year;
  • 52% believe that what you think doesn’t count very much anymore, compared to 56% last year;
  • 37% believe that they are left out of things going on around them, compared to 35% last year.

In addition, 70% feel that the people in Washington are out of touch with the rest of the country, compared to 72% last year. However, this question is not used in the calculation of the Alienation Index, because it was not asked before 1992.

 

Demographically, some people feel more alienated than others

Hispanics feel more alienated than African-Americans and Whites. (Alienation Index of 55 compared to 49 and 52). People with more education feel less alienated than people with less education. The Index is 56 among people with only a high school education compared to 43 among those with a post graduate education and 44% among those with a college degree.

 

So what?

It is interesting to speculate on what drives these numbers. Changes in the Index are not, primarily, driven by the economy and the level of unemployment. The Index is lower (i.e. fewer people feel alienated) than it was when the economy was booming in the 1990s.

Nor, it seems, is it directly related to the political mood, measured by the number of people who feel the country is on the right track or who give good and bad marks to the President or Congress. However, Alienation is now much lower among African Americans than it was in the preceding years when a white president was in the White House.

Rather it seems that alienation reflects something more subtle-feelings about the people who are in power, rather than the policies or the consequences of their actions.


 

TABLE 1

ALIENATION INDEX – TREND SINCE 1966

The Harris Interactive Alienation Index is calculated by taking an average (mean) of those who agree with the first five statements (see Table 3)

YEAR

PRESIDENT

INDEX

2010

Obama

52

2009

Obama

53

2008

G.W. Bush

58

2007

G.W. Bush

56

2006

G. W. Bush

54

2005

G. W. Bush

55

2004

G. W. Bush

50

2003

G. W. Bush

54

2002

G. W. Bush

52

2001

G. W. Bush

47

2000

Clinton

55

1999

Clinton

62

1998

Clinton

56

1997

Clinton

62

1996

Clinton

62

1995

Clinton

67

1994

Clinton

65

1993

Clinton

65

1992

G. H. W. Bush

65

1991

G. H. W. Bush

66

1990

G. H. W. Bush

61

1989

G. H. W. Bush

58

1988

Reagan

54

1987

Reagan

55

1986

Reagan

60

1985

Reagan

56

1984

Reagan

55

1983

Reagan

62

1982

Reagan

56

1978

Carter

51

1977

Carter

59

1976

Ford

57

1974

Nixon

59

1973

Nixon

55

1972

Nixon

44

1971

Nixon

40

1969

Nixon

36

1968

Johnson

36

1966

Johnson

29

The Alienation questions were not asked in 1967, 1970, 1975, 1979, 1980 and 1981.

 

 

TABLE 2

ALIENATION INDEX UNDER EIGHT PRESIDENTS

President

Years With Data

High

Low

Average

Barack Obama

2

53 (2009)

52 (2010)

53

George W. Bush

8

58 (2008)

47 (2001)

53

Bill Clinton

8

67 (1995)

55 (2000)

62

George H. W. Bush

4

66 (1991)

58 (1989)

62

Ronald Reagan

7

62 (1983)

54 (1988)

57

Jimmy Carter

2

59 (1977)

51 (1978)

55

Gerald Ford

1

57 (1976)

57 (1976)

57

Richard Nixon

5

59 (1974)

36 (1969)

47

Lyndon Johnson

2

36 (1968)

29 (1966)

32

 

 

 

TABLE 3

ALIENATION INDEX: DECADE AVERAGES (MEAN)

The 1960s

34

The 1970s

52

The 1980s

57

The 1990s

63

The 2000s (so far)

53

 

 

 

TABLE 4

ALIENATION – INDIVIDUAL QUESTION TREND

Now I want to read you some things some people have told us they have felt from time to time. Do you tend to feel or not feel (READ LIST)?

Those saying Yes, feel this way

 

1972

1977

1985

1990

1992

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

67

77

79

82

83

78

79

76

78

72

74

What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

50

61

62

62

62

66

71

65

63

60

62

Most people with power try to take advantage of people like yourself

43

60

65

64

71

70

72

67

69

58

60

The people running the country don’t really care what happens to you

46

60

57

53

60

63

60

59

57

54

68

You’re left out of things going on around you

25

35

48

44

48

49

51

43

43

33

46

The people in Washington are out of touch with the rest of the country

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

83

83

81

75

76

76

72

 

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

69

69

72

69

68

75

72

73

71

66

68

The people running the country don’t really care what happens to you

53

36

44

46

44

53

53

59

62

53

50

Most people with power try to take advantage of people like yourself

59

48

61

60

53

60

54

57

59

57

53

What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

56

49

55

56

51

53

52

55

57

56

52

You’re left out of things going on around you

39

33

30

40

34

35

38

36

41

35

37

The people in Washington are out of touch with the rest of the country

73

51

60

67

67

74

68

75

83

72

70

Not included in the Alienation Index.

Note: Until 2010, these questions were always asked at the end of the year, usually in November or December.


TABLE 5

ALIENATION INDEX BY DEMOGRAPHICS

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

All Adults

62

56

62

55

47

52

54

50

55

54

56

58

53

52

Gender

Men

59

55

61

52

46

51

53

45

52

53

54

55

54

51

Women

65

56

63

59

48

54

56

54

58

54

59

60

52

52

Race/Ethnicity

White

61

54

60

53

43

49

50

45

53

50

54

55

53

52

African American

70

62

72

63

66

68

68

74

67

67

65

71

53

49

Hispanic

70

55

59

54

54

56

64

62

65

63

58

66

60

55

Education

HS or less

70

63

68

63

52

60

62

56

63

62

65

64

59

56

Some college

60

54

64

54

47

50

53

51

52

53

52

61

56

54

College grad

51

42

47

46

36

40

38

35

46

42

45

45

41

44

Post graduate

42

46

43

32

39

40

47

39

40

36

44

44

44

43

Political Party

Republican

56

51

59

46

35

41

34

26

35

39

45

42

56

53

Democrat

65

57

63

62

54

62

66

67

70

63

65

69

50

50

Independent

64

56

65

53

49

55

58

55

55

56

58

55

57

49

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone within the United States between July 13 and 18, 2010 among 1,066 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, number of adults in the household, number of phone lines in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J38512

Q605, 606

The Harris Poll ® #96, August 10, 2010

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive

 

 

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