Surveys have shown that Americans are unhappy with the present state of our society and want to see changes made. Millions of Americans indicate that they are willing to participate in bringing about some significant changes to our society. But pinpointing exactly which changes most people will embrace is not so easy.
Things Nobody Wants
Two new nationwide surveys by the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) clarify some of the societal options that Americans do and do not want.
There were three alternatives tested in the surveys that most people do not want. In each case, only minorities of people from a wide variety of population subgroups – based on political ideology, faith alignment, generation, worldview, and other attributes – expressed interest in this trio of possibilities.
The first change that was widely rejected – dismissed by almost two-thirds of Americans (64%) – was having open borders to allow immigrants to settle in the US at will, receiving the same rights and privileges as citizen-taxpayers, but without having to seek citizenship or meet entry criteria. The people most supportive were those under 30 years of age (39% embraced the idea) and those who are liberal on social and fiscal matters (40%). The segment least supportive were SAGE Cons – the acronym for Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservative Christians – from which just 1% backed the plan.
The second possibility that failed to achieve lift-off was to shift the United States from a democracy based on capitalism to a democracy based on socialism. Only 27% of adults supported that concept. The people most supportive were those under the age of 50 (35% backed the plan) and those who qualified as liberals (47% were supportive). The group least likely to put their weight behind turning socialist was, not surprisingly, SAGE Cons. Again, just 1% of that segment got behind the idea.
The third alternative that failed to get a majority of support from any population segment was to change the nation’s legal system to prevent anyone from being able to sue anyone else for any reason. While there have been many who have criticized the U.S. for being too litigious, this means of limiting frivolous lawsuits was backed by only one-third of all adults (34%). However, that level of support was relatively consistent across most of the population subgroups evaluated. There was slightly higher-than-average support found among people aged 30 to 49 (43%), and slightly lower support registered among adults with a biblical worldview (27%) and adults aligned with a non-Christian faith (27%).
A Majority of Some Groups Approve
There were four change proposals tested that were rejected by the aggregate adult population but which garnered appeal among majorities of certain subgroups.
A plurality of Americans (47%) actually supported the notion of placing restrictions on all forms of media so that there is less sexuality, profanity, and violence in entertainment media. (Forty-four percent opposed the idea.) The bulk of the support for that step, generated by majorities of each segment, was from Integrated Disciples (i.e. 78% of the adults who have a biblical worldview), SAGE Cons (77%), conservatives (64%), born again Christians (63%), people 65 or older (60%), and adults who describe themselves as Christian (54%). The groups most firmly opposed to the idea included religious Skeptics (just 24% supported the proposal) and political liberals (35% support).
More than four out of ten adults (42%) backed the idea of limiting the activity of the US military to protecting our domestic land, removing our military from other nations and prohibiting its involvement in conflicts beyond American borders. That plan was rejected by 46% of the public. The barest of majorities (51%) from two segments – people who prefer socialism to capitalism, and religious Skeptics – supported that option. Half of the adults in the 30-to-49 age group (50%) also backed the idea. The most prolific opponents were Integrated Disciples (just 27% expressed support), people 65 or older (27%), and SAGE Con (29%).
A third idea that fell flat was eliminating all moral judgments, other than those involving physical or financial harm, from all laws and public policies, leaving those decisions solely up to each individual. This would include laws and policies such as those related (but not limited) to divorce, polygamy, abortion, marriage, substance use, and pornography. That proposal was supported by 37% and rejected by 48%. A majority of liberals (54%) endorsed the plan while the smallest levels of support came from SAGE Cons (6%) and Integrated Disciples (10%).
The final change alternative that was generally rejected but found pockets of significant support was to institute traditional moral perspectives – such as defining marriage as between a man and woman, prohibiting cohabitation, outlawing abortion, penalizing public drunkenness, and limiting divorce – as the foundation of the government’s moral policies. In this case, 37% of adults supported the plan and 52% rejected it. The greatest backing came from SAGE Cons (85%), Integrated Disciples (78%), conservatives (60%), and born again Christians (53%). The least support was found among religious Skeptics (13%).
Americans Agree on This One
That left one of the eight proposals explored in the survey alive – an idea that a small majority of adults agreed to support. Overall 54% said they favored a shift of much of the federal government’s authority and responsibility to state and local governments. Only one-third of the nation (33%) would oppose that action. (The remaining 13% did not know what side to choose.) The most widespread support was found among SAGE Cons (96%), conservatives (69%), Trump voters (67%), adults 65 or older (61%), Integrated Disciples (59%), and born again Christians (57%). The least support was evident among blacks (42%), Clinton voters (43%), liberals (49%), and LGBT individuals (49%).
Thoughts on the Research
George Barna, who conducted the research through the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI), noted that it may take a number of these kinds of exploratory surveys to identify a group of proposals for change that Americans can get behind – and that based on the level of political polarization currently present very few of those proposals are likely get a “super-majority” backing from the public.
Barna also pointed out that while the media have stereotyped conservatives as being people who are “for nothing, against everything,” the research suggests that it is just the opposite.
“We tested four ideas that are widely thought to be favored by conservatives and four that are generally deemed appealing to liberals. The final numbers, however, showed that while a majority of conservatives did support three of the four right-leaning proposals, a majority of liberals backed only one of the four left-leaning ideas,” noted the researcher. “You cannot make sweeping judgments based on just eight ideas that are evaluated in a single survey. However, this study raises the possibility that the popular media-driven narrative claiming that conservatives are against everything while liberals are more thoughtful about and accepting of change proposals is a bunch of nonsense.”
About the Research
The research described in this report is drawn from two nationwide online surveys. The first is known as FullView™ which is a survey with a randomly-selected sample size of 1,000 adults, age 18 or older, whose demographic profile that reflects that of the adult population. That study was conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute from March 22 through 29, 2017. The other is known as RightView™, which is a longitudinal study among people who are qualified as SAGE Cons. The current survey among them involved interviews with 900 SAGE Cons, conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute during April 2017.
In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They constitute roughly 10% of the adult population.
Integrated Disciples are people who meet the biblical worldview criteria pioneered in ACFI’s Worldview Measurement Project. That metric is based upon 20 questions about core spiritual beliefs and 20 questions assessing behavior. The 40 data points are then evaluated in relation to biblical content and the number of biblically consistent answers is tallied for each respondent. Those who answered 80% or more of the questions in accordance with biblical principles are categorized as “Integrated Disciples” – that is, people who are designated as having a biblical worldview based on integrating their beliefs and behavior into a lifestyle that reflects foundational biblical principles. The survey of the general public revealed that 10% of American adults currently have a biblical worldview and thus are classified as Integrated Disciples.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.
Additional information about this study and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com. To receive a free copy of the weekly research reports produced by ACFI, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.