Feeling of Alienation Among Americans Reaches Highest Point On Record

New York, N.Y. – January 20, 2015 – This year’s midterm elections brought a bitterly fought campaign across many states. Soon after these elections, The Harris Poll revisited a long-term trend looking at how alienated Americans feel. The results were far from promising. Americans feel more alienated than ever, as reflected in the latest Harris Poll Alienation Index, which began in 1966; the level of alienation among U.S. adults has increased 3 points since last year and 17 points since 2009, President Obama’s first year in office.

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 Poll Alienation Index is at 70, compared to 67 in 2013, 63 in 2011, 52 in 2010 and 53 in 2009. The Alienation Index has never before reached the 70s.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,276 adults surveyed online between November 12 and 17, 2014.

The Index is based on replies to five questions, which show some interesting differences, and also some similarities, to past years’ data.

  • 85% believe that the people running the country don’t really care what happens to you, equivalent to last year and up from 73% in 2011;
  • 81% of all adults believe the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, compared to 80% in 2013 and 73% in 2011;
  • 71% believe that most people in power try to take advantage of people like you compared to 69% last year and 63% in 2011;
  • 68% believe that what you think doesn’t count very much anymore, up from 61% last year and 66% in 2011; and
  • 42% believe that they are left out of things going on around them, compared to 38% in 2013 and 41% in 2011.

Furthermore, nearly nine in ten Americans (89%) feel that the people in Washington, D.C. are out of touch with the rest of the country, compared to 90% last year and 87% in 2011. However, this question is not used in the calculation of the Alienation Index because it was not asked before 1992.

Who’s the most alienated of them all?

Some interesting differences exist between different demographic groups when considering just how alienated they feel. Those with a high school education or less feel more alienated than those with a college degree or a post-grad education. Perhaps speaking to a disappointment with the midterm election results, Democrats feel more alienated than Republicans, with Independents feeling more alienated than both parties. Additionally, those with a household income under $35,000 per year feel more alienated than individuals at all other household income levels.

Interestingly, no significant differences exist between different generations and their level of alienation. The same is true for men vs. women.

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TABLE 1

ALIENATION INDEX

The Harris Poll Alienation Index is calculated by taking an average (mean) of those who agree with five of the six statements (see Table 5)

YEAR

PRESIDENT

INDEX

2014

Obama

70

2013

Obama

67

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, 1981 and 2012.

– Please note, starting in 2013 the Alienation Index was conducted online and not by telephone

 


TABLE 2

ALIENATION INDEX UNDER EIGHT PRESIDENTS

President

Years With Data

High

Low

Average

Barack Obama

5

70 (2014)

52 (2010)

61

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

Note: Please note that starting in 2013 the Index was conducted online and not by telephone

 

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 INDEX – BY DEMOGRAPHIC GROUP (2014)

Base: All adults

Total

All Adults

70

Gender

Male

69

Female

70

Generation

Millennials (18 – 37)

68

Generation X (38 – 49)

71

Baby Boomers (50 – 68)

70

Matures (69+)

68

Education

High School or less

71

Some College

70

College Graduate

65

Post Grad

67

Party

Republican

64

Democrat

70

Independent

73

Region

East

68

Midwest

71

South

69

West

70

Metro Status

Urban

68

Suburban

70

Rural

71

Household Income

Under $35,000

75

$35,000-$49,999

71

$50,000-$74,999

68

$75,000-$99,999

66

$100,000+

65


TABLE 5

ALIENATION: INDIVIDUAL QUESTION TREND

Telephone Question (1972 – 2012) 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)?

Online Question (2013 – present) Now, we want to ask you about some things some people have said they have felt from time to time. Do you tend to feel that…?

Those saying Yes, feel this way

 

1972

1977

1985

1990

1992

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

50

61

62

62

62

66

71

65

63

60

62

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

67

77

79

82

83

78

79

76

78

72

74

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

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

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

53

36

44

46

44

53

53

59

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

69

69

72

69

68

75

72

73

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

59

48

61

60

53

60

54

57

What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

56

49

55

56

51

53

52

55

You’re left out of things going on around you

39

33

30

40

34

35

38

36

The people in Washington, D.C. are out of touch with the rest of the country

73

51

60

67

67

74

68

75

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2013

2014

%

%

%

%

%

%

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

62

53

50

73

85

85

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

71

66

68

73

80

81

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

59

57

53

63

69

71

What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

57

56

52

66

61

68

You’re left out of things going on around you

41

35

37

41

38

42

The people in Washington, D.C. are out of touch with the rest of the country

83

72

70

87

90

89

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 6

ALIENATION: INDIVIDUAL QUESTION – By Political Party and Generation

Telephone Question (1972 – 2012) 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)?

Online Question (2013 – present) Now, we want to ask you about some things some people have said they have felt from time to time. Do you tend to feel that…?

Those saying Yes, feel this way

Base: All adults

 

Total

Political Party

Generation

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Millennials (18-37)

Gen X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

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

85

87

82

88

81

87

86

91

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

81

64

91

82

79

85

81

80

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

71

65

69

77

71

70

74

65

What you think doesn’t count very much anymore

68

67

65

74

65

70

70

74

You’re left out of things going on around you

42

36

44

44

47

42

42

30

The people in Washington, D.C. are out of touch with the rest of the country

89

90

86

93

83

89

93

96

Not included in the Alienation Index

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between November 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,276 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

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, The Harris Poll 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.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

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 The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #6, January 20, 2015

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll