Amidst the drama, conflict and negative overtones that characterize contemporary presidential elections, it would be easy to assume that voters’ belief in the American Dream is fading faster than a holiday flower arrangement.
Not so, according to insights from Resonate’s analytics and insights platform.
Resonate data shows more than one-third (34%) of U.S. online adults 18 and over—or 61.4 million US adults—agree that that the American Dream is within reach. The percent of that population that rejects this belief is less than half as large—15%.
Closer examination of the data underscores how crucial this third of the electorate can be to campaigns. It turns out that as a measure of voter turnout, the American Dream is a pretty good yardstick.
”Dream Believers” are more likely to see politics and elections as a vehicle for achieving it, with 15% and 22% being more likely to be frequent voters in presidential elections and presidential primaries, respectively. Conversely, “Dream Skeptics” are 22% and 34% more likely not to vote in presidential primaries and elections, respectively.
BEHIND THE DATA: WHAT ELSE DO DREAM BELIEVERS BELIEVE IN?
Resonate’s data shows that it’s no longer enough to promise “a chicken in every pot” as shorthand for the American Dream of success and opportunity. Today’s candidates need a more complete picture of the electorate, including sophisticated insight into what makes them tick—and vote.
For example, Dream Believers are 44% more likely to value patriotism than the general population. 40% are driven by their devotion to God/Faith, making them 18% more likely to hold these views than the general population. And 53% of Believers are fiscal conservatives, or 26% more likely than the general population.
Other issues that rank as priorities for Dream Believers include homeland security (25%) defense/military, government spending, crime/law enforcement and immigration. And, given that the climate talks in Paris wrapped, it’s worth noting that environmental issues rank last as a priority for believers. They are 17% less likely to support an environmental platform than the general population.
Candidates who emphasize these values will find they are talking to receptive audiences. Dream Believers outnumber skeptics among the traditionally strongest age groups of likely voters. According to the Census Bureau, the turnout rages of adults ages 65 and older rose to 71.9% in 2012 from 70.3% in 2008, while the turnout rate among 18-to 24-year olds fell to 41.2% in 2012 from 48.5% in 2008.
An overlay of those numbers against a demographic breakdown of Believers is illuminating. 22% of believers are 65 or older, and they are 62% more likely to be 65 and over than the general population. Meanwhile, Dream Skeptics are 24% more likely to be 18-24 than the general population.
The Resonate data is reflected in other surveys as well. A new Washington Post/Fusion poll of adults aged 18-34 (a slightly different select than the Resonate group), duplicated a series of questions about the American Dream. As the Post reported,
“In the three decades between the surveys, pollsters found, share of young Americans overall who said the American Dream “is not really alive” grew sharply from 12 to 29 percent. Among white people, it nearly tripled from 10 percent to 29 percent. One in three white non-college graduates now say it is not alive, compared to one-fifth of white college graduates; the increase from 1986 was larger for non-graduates than for graduates.”
And a new national poll from Harvard’s Institute of Politics concluded that “nearly half of young Americans believe the American Dream is dead for them.” According to Bloomberg,
“Reflecting the sour mood of the overall electorate, 48 percent of those asked ‘For you personally, is the idea of the American Dream alive or dead?’ responded ‘dead.’ Those who picked ‘alive’ accounted for 49 percent.’
Political scientists tell us that voting attitudes and habits get baked in early, and are hard to change. So, if belief in the American Dream is a value that influences voting behavior, it stands to reason that a non-voting generation who didn’t believe in it thirty years ago will be equally disinterested in politics today.
IMPLICATIONS FOR CANDIDATES AND CAMPAIGNS
Campaigns can use this data to great advantage in crowded primaries. Appeals to the biggest group of likely voters (seniors) with a message they find compelling (hope for the future) can make a difference. Targeting young people? Not so much.
Marco Rubio, whose prospects are rising in the Republican primary understand this very well. According to Reuters,
“Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, 44, frequently plugs his youth on the campaign trail but his promise to restore the American Dream for a new generation seems to appeal more to older age groups.
As the U.S. senator from Florida rises in opinion polls of Republicans, his gains are coming from voters over the age of 50, and most from those older than 65, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.”
The calculus for candidates in 2016 is to go beyond sound bites and hot-button issues, and craft appeals to the most deeply held values and beliefs of voters.
Optimism usually beats pessimism in presidential elections, with Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” theme regarded as the paradigm for this principle. Clearly Dream Believers remain a significant portion of the electorate. The challenge for today’s candidates is to sound the alarm without being alarmist; to mention the nightmare but focus on the dream.