Harris Alienation Index Jumps Up Considerably to a Level Not Seen Since the Clinton Years

    New York, N.Y. – September 13, 2011 – A new Harris Poll finds that the level of alienation among Americans has jumped up 11 points in one year, one of the highest single year movements ever. The last time the Index jumped by this much was from 1972 to 1973 during the Nixon Administration.

    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 is at 63, compared to 52 last year, 53 the year before and 58 in 2008 when George W. Bush was still president. The last time the Alienation Index was in the 60s was during Bill Clinton’s administration.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 1,956 adults surveyed by telephone and online between August 8 and 15, 2011 by Harris Interactive. This is the first time this survey has been conducted both by telephone and online.

    The Index is based on replies to five questions, many of which show major changes since last year.

    • 73% of all adults believe the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, compared to 68% last year;
    • 73% believe that the people running the country don’t really care what happens to you, compared to 50% in 2010, an increase of 23%;
    • 66% believe that what you think doesn’t count very much anymore, compared to 52% last year, an increase of 14%;
    • 63% believe that most people in power try to take advantage of people like you compared to 53% last year, an increase of 10%; and
    • 41% believe that they are left out of things going on around them, compared to 37% last year.

    In addition, 87% feel that the people in Washington are out of touch with the rest of the country, compared to 70% last year, an increase of 17%. However, this question is not used in the calculation of the Alienation Index, because it was not asked before 1992.

    So what?

    Trying to determine what moves this Alienation Index is always something interesting for us speculate about each year. This year, the large movement suggests something that we’ve seen undercurrents of for the past few months. As President Obama’s and Congress’ approval ratings continue to drop, as fear grows about heading into a second, or double dip, recession and as more and more Americans believe the direction of the United States is heading in the wrong direction, this anger needs to be directed some place. And, it seems Americans have looked at an entire group of people-those in Washington and those running the country-and found they are worthy of the blame.

    In the past, we’ve seen that changes in the Index are not, primarily, driven by the economy and the level of unemployment. For the past two years, the Index was lower (i.e. fewer people felt alienated) than it was when the economy was booming in the 1990s. But, if we go back to the last time the Index jumped this much, and what was happening then – 1972-1973 and Watergate – we see what may cause the American people the most concern, the hubris of politicians and the fact they just don’t care about what happens to the voters. Come next November, we’ll see what might happen because of this sense of alienation.

     

     


     

    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

    2011

    Obama

    63

    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

    3

    63 (2011)

    52 (2010)

    56

    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

    53

    The 2010s (so far)

    63

     

     


     

     

    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

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

    46

    60

    57

    53

    60

    63

    60

    59

    57

    54

    68

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

    43

    60

    65

    64

    71

    70

    72

    67

    69

    58

    60

    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

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

    69

    69

    72

    69

    68

    75

    72

    73

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

    53

    36

    44

    46

    44

    53

    53

    59

    What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

    56

    49

    55

    56

    51

    53

    52

    55

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

    59

    48

    61

    60

    53

    60

    54

    57

    You’re left out of things going on around you

    39

    33

    30

    40

    34

    35

    38

    36

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

    73

    51

    60

    67

    67

    74

    68

    75

     

    2008

    2009

    2010

    2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

    71

    66

    68

    73

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

    62

    53

    50

    73

    What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

    57

    56

    52

    66

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

    59

    57

    53

    63

    You’re left out of things going on around you

    41

    35

    37

    41

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

    83

    72

    70

    87

    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.


     

    Methodology

    The Harris Poll® was conducted by telephone and online, within the United States between August 8 and 15, 2011 among a nationwide cross section of 1,956 adults (aged 18 and over). The interviews conducted by telephone (1019) included a nationwide cross section of adults with landlines in their households. The interviews conducted online (937) included a nationwide sample who have agreed to take part in Harris Interactive surveys, and who indicated not having a landline (i.e., cell phone only), or using their cell phone for almost all of their calls (cell phone mostly), and thus were included to ensure representation of these groups that are lacking among a traditional RDD telephone sample. Telephone data only were adjusted to ensure appropriate representation on number of telephone/voice lines and number of adults in the household, and online data only were are adjusted by propensity to be online to correct for attitudinal/behavioral differences between our panel and those who respond via phone. Finally, for the combined telephone and online data, figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, household income, and phone status (cell phone only, cell phone mostly, dual users, landline mostly, landline only) were adjusted as necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Population proportions for demographic variables were acquired from the 2010 Current Population Survey, while phone status proportions were acquired from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

    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.

    J40515

    Q605

     

    The Harris Poll ® #97, September 13, 2011

    By Regina A. Corso, SVP, Harris Poll, Public Relations and Youth Research, Harris Interactive

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