American Values: a truly mixed bag

The Public Religion Research Institute recently released its 2015 American Values Survey results and the results offer a fascinating look at the very divergent views amongst different groups of Americans. The report is over 50 pages long and well worth reading, but a few key points are worth highlighting.


  • Fewer than 1/2 of all Republicans have a favorable view of the Tea Party (45%) compared to 58% as recently as 2014.
  • Political independents’ support of the Tea Party has declined from 35% in 2014 to 27% today.
  • Tea Party support amongst Democrats has dropped from 18% in 2014 to 12% today.

Regarding what seems like never ending threats to shut the government down, the vast majority of people from all political persuasions believe that finding common ground to keep the government functioning is more important than standing on principle and shutting it down. This is true for Democrats (87%), independents (78%), and Republicans (67%). Indeed, only a slim minority (49%) of those who identify as Tea Party supporters advocate standing on principle rather than seeking common ground.

One of the more fascinating results is that while the nation is evenly split about whether our best days are ahead or behind us, different groups have vastly different views on this issue.

  • 60% of African Americans and 56% of Hispanic Americans believe that our best days are yet to come;
  • but only 47% of white Americans believe our best days are ahead of us.
  • 59% of Democrats (including 61% of white Democrats) believe our best days are in the future;
  • but only 47% of independents and 41% of Republicans believe our best days are yet to come.
  • The most pessimistic people are those who identify with the Tea Party as only 33% of them believe our best days are ahead of us.

Regarding economic inequity, Democrats (61%) are about twice as likely as Republicans (33%) and members the Tea Party (29%) to perceive a great amount of unfairness in the economic system. This of course leads to interesting views on the minimum wage.

More than three-quarters (76%) of the public supports raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Support has ticked up slightly since last year, when 69% of Americans expressed support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

59% of Americans express support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but there is less agreement, especially across political party lines, about the larger wage hike.

Roughly equal numbers of Democrats favor raising the minimum wage to $10.10 as they do to $15 (91% vs. 84%, respectively). Independents are somewhat more likely to favor a $10.10 wage hike than one that goes to $15 (72% vs. 58%, respectively). Among Republicans, the gap in support grows even larger: while six in ten (60%) Republicans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10, fewer than one-third (32%) say they favor raising it to $15.

The survey goes on to report that:

Americans are evenly divided as to whether immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents (47%) or whether they constitute a burden on the U.S. because they take jobs, housing, and health care (46%). This current split reflects a drop in positive sentiment since last year, when nearly six in ten (57%) Americans said immigrants strengthen our culture and only 35% said they burden it.

But these views diverge tremendously along political affiliation.

  • 62% of Democrats believe that immigrants strengthen, rather than burden our nation;
  • while 66% of Republicans believe that immigrants burden our nation, instead of strengthening it. The report points out that there is no significant difference amongst Tea Party affiliates.

One of the most troubling results of the survey was that over half of Americans (58%) do not believe that African Americans and other racial minorities are treated fairly by our criminal justice system. That belief is held by a majority of white Americans (52%) and a vast majority of African Americans (85%) and Hispanic Americans (67%).

There is also a political divide on this issue. Republicans (64%) and Tea Party members (65%) believe African Americans and other racial minorities are treated fairly in our criminal justice system, while 74% of Democrats disagree.

As the 2016 election campaign kicks into high gear, it will be interesting to see how these values and divides play out, particularly in areas when a majority of Americans feel strongly (e.g., increasing the minimum wage). For those interested in progressive systems change, understanding American values, where they diverge, and how to influence them, are all critical to systems change success.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


One thought on “American Values: a truly mixed bag

  1. The positive of 58% of Americans recognizing that African-Americans are not treated fairly by the criminal justice system is the recognition of the reality of that racial disparities problem. That is among the first steps of the systems change process.

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