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

August 10, 2010

NEW YORK, Aug. 10 /PRNewswire/ — 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.

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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
                          Years With
    President                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
                                     %      %      %      %      %      %
    The rich get richer and the
     poor get poorer                  67     77     79     82     83     78
    What you think doesn't count
     very much anymore                50     61     62     62     62     66
    Most people with power try to
     take advantage of people
     like yourself                    43     60     65     64     71     70
    The people running the
     country don't really care
     what happens to you              46     60     57     53     60     63
    You're left out of things
     going on around you              25     35     48     44     48     49
    The people in Washington are
     out of touch with the rest
     of the country*                 N/A    N/A    N/A    N/A     83     83


                                    1995   1996   1997   1998   1999
                                     %      %      %      %      %
    The rich get richer and the
     poor get poorer                  79     76     78     72     74
    What you think doesn't count
     very much anymore                71     65     63     60     62
    Most people with power try to
     take advantage of people
     like yourself                    72     67     69     58     60
    The people running the
     country don't really care
     what happens to you              60     59     57     54     68
    You're left out of things
     going on around you              51     43     43     33     46
    The people in Washington are
     out of touch with the rest
     of the country*                  81     75     76     76     72


                                    2000   2001   2002   2003    2004   2005
                                     %      %      %      %       %      %
    The rich get richer and the
     poor get poorer                  69     69     72     69      68     75
    The people running the
     country don't really care
     what happens to you              53     36     44     46      44     53
    Most people with power try to
     take advantage of people
     like yourself                    59     48     61     60      53     60
    What you think doesn't count
     very much anymore                56     49     55     56      51     53
    You're left out of things
     going on around you              39     33     30     40      34     35
    The people in Washington are
     out of touch with the rest
     of the country*                  73     51     60     67      67     74


                                    2006   2007   2008   2009   2010
                                                  ----   ----   ----
                                     %      %      %      %      %
                                                  ---    ---    ---
    The rich get richer and the
     poor get poorer                  72     73     71     66     68
                                                   ---    ---    ---
    The people running the
     country don't really care
     what happens to you              53     59     62     53     50
                                                   ---    ---    ---
    Most people with power try to
     take advantage of people
     like yourself                    54     57     59     57     53
                                                   ---    ---    ---
    What you think doesn't count
     very much anymore                52     55     57     56     52
                                                   ---    ---    ---
    You're left out of things
     going on around you              38     36     41     35     37
                                                   ---    ---    ---
    The people in Washington are
     out of touch with the rest
     of the country*                  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
    All Adults             62     56     62      55     47      52      54
    Gender
      Men                  59     55     61      52     46      51      53
      Women                65     56     63      59     48      54      56
    Race/Ethnicity
      White                61     54     60      53     43      49      50
      African American     70     62     72      63     66      68      68
      Hispanic             70     55     59      54     54      56      64
    Education
      HS or less           70     63     68      63     52      60      62
      Some college         60     54     64      54     47      50      53
      College grad         51     42     47      46     36      40      38
      Post graduate        42     46     43      32     39      40      47
    Political Party
      Republican           56     51     59      46     35      41      34
      Democrat             65     57     63      62     54      62      66
      Independent          64     56     65      53     49      55      58


                          2004   2005   2006   2007   2008   2009    2010
    All Adults              50     55     54     56     58     53      52
    Gender
      Men                   45     52     53     54     55     54      51
      Women                 54     58     54     59     60     52      52
    Race/Ethnicity
      White                 45     53     50     54     55     53      52
      African American      74     67     67     65     71     53      49
      Hispanic              62     65     63     58     66     60      55
    Education
      HS or less            56     63     62     65     64     59      56
      Some college          51     52     53     52     61     56      54
      College grad          35     46     42     45     45     41      44
      Post graduate         39     40     36     44     44     44      43
    Political Party
      Republican            26     35     39     45     42     56      53
      Democrat              67     70     63     65     69     50      50
      Independent           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

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.


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