Market research is often about figuring out how the average American (the general population) feels about things. Less time is spent describing who exactly that average American is, although many have tried.
Recently Philip Bump in the Washington Post took a dive into Census data and determined that the average American is a 52-year-old white, non-Hispanic woman with a bachelor’s degree. She works in healthcare or education earning a little under $900 a week. The kicker of the piece notes that she, like most Americans, won’t have her voice heard in the midterm elections because she won’t bother to vote.
The truth is that it’s harder and harder to create an archetypal American. The U.S. is increasingly fragmented along demographic and political lines. Opinions are often triggered by tribal cues which act as an intellectual shortcut. Ipsos research shows that these heuristics spill-over from political thought to brand decisions.
In a hyper-polarized time, it’s also illustrative the things we have in common. Looking back at polling data from 2018, you might be surprised by the degree to which most (51% or more) Americans agree on issues big and small.
“Americans are a people divided. I have dozens of polls to show that. But the truth is we have just as many stats that show the huge common grounds we share,” said Chris Jackson, who oversees Ipsos U.S. political polling. “Virtually all Americans believe in responsibility, creativity, taking care of others, and self-reliance. We all brush our teeth and worry about if it will rain today.”
Ipsos does indeed have stats about common ground. Here are 118 things Americans, as a nation, agree on.
Most Americans drink it.
The Weather Channel:
Almost all Americans (91%) trust it.
The polarization of Trump comes more from how strongly we hold our opinions than from the opinions themselves. Most Americans disapprove of Trump’s job performance overall and on most specific issues. We’re inching toward a point where a majority strongly disapprove. Almost two thirds disapprove of his handling of Russia a nation that only 8% think of as a friend. Most (56%) think Russia tried to influence the election (they did) and most think Trump or his campaign worked with Russia to do so. Not surprisingly, a similar number think he will be impeached. Fewer think he will resign.
Everyone likes him. Bill Gates, too.
Americans also agree on who should run for office, and how they should campaign. A majority of Americans think interest groups should follow the same campaign or election laws as required for political candidates (76%) and that political TV ads should disclose who paid for them (85%). Half think elections are fair and open. But two thirds want restrictions on corporate and union money in elections. Large majorities of Americans believe that high-level elected officials should have prior government (66%) or management (73%) experience before assuming office. Most don’t want celebrities to run for office, and are explicitly against the idea of president Kanye West.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans think it’s rigged for the rich and powerful. Even more think that our political parties don’t care about people like them.
63% want at least some legal access to abortion and only 9% want it illegal in all cases.
Most understand that climate change is caused by human activity and many think we’re seeing the effects already. Most think floods and extreme cold are becoming worse. Most are unwilling to take steps to reduce their impact on climate change.
While most Americans “have no problem” with people owning guns, three in four think gun control laws should be stricter and that Congress should do more. Significant numbers agree with bans on assault-type rifles, high capacity magazines and bump stocks as well as background checks for everyone and raising the purchase age from 18 to 21. A majority of Americans strongly agree with each of those ideas.
A majority favor giving legal status to undocumented or illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children but also penalizing any U.S. employer found to hire undocumented immigrants. Most oppose building a border wall with Mexico no matter who pays for it.
Seven of 10 Americans say that achieving equality among genders is important to them. When asked if things would work better if more women held positions with responsibilities in government and companies, 61% of Americans agreed. Most Americans consider themselves “feminists.” But there’s work to do. Nearly all Americans think a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment is essential to bringing about change in our society. And while most consider referring to an adult female coworker as a “girl,” “babe,” “sweetie,” or “honey” inappropriate, most have also seen it happen.
A vast majority agree that the “freedom of the press is essential for American democracy,” and is a value that makes America great. Additionally, two-thirds say that “reporters should be protected from pressure from government or big business interests.” Most feel that the media is a necessary check on President Trump, but most also feel that the press is more about “making money than telling the truth.” Most Americans watch news on TV. Most trust PBS (79%), NBC News, ABC News, the BBC, CBS News, ESPN and USA Today among other media outlets.
Most Americans didn’t fly on an airplane in 2017, but almost everyone (88%) has at some point and was satisfied with their experience. Most (69%) have traveled outside the U.S. at least once. Americans rate flying as being among the safest ways to travel but few (15%) would be comfortable on a plane that was completely pilotless. Most however have a positive view of self-driving cars.
Eight in ten Americans consider themselves an above average driver. Many of those people are likely wrong. (Think about it.)
Healthcare and health:
Most Americans support Medicare for all – including now a majority of Republicans, a stat so counter to the prevailing narrative that even the Onion covered this non-satirical Reuters/Ipsos poll. Most Americans report feeling unhappy with how their body looks at times. But they try to keep those bodies clean. Most Americans consider themselves to be in good health and visit their primary doctor at least once a year. Most Americans consider themselves “very clean,” shower at least five times a week, use deodorant and mouthwash and toilet paper. A majority of Americans don’t floss daily. The typical American think men have sex 14 times a month (it’s less than four times) and women have sex 17 times (it’s closer to six times).
Most families think college is a good value and eight in 10 think having a college degree is increasingly important and will earn them more money. Teachers themselves report having needed to take second jobs to make ends meet, as well as spending their own money on class room supplies and their own time on helping students outside of the class room.
Most Americans value: Being intelligent (93%), responsibility, taking care of others, creativity, self-reliance, independence, being respectful, entrepreneurial and an active member of one’s community.
But enough about average Americans. How do we feel about “real” Americans? We have thoughts on that, too. More than eight in ten consider themselves a real American, although younger Americans are less likely to than older Americans. Most Americans are proud to be Americans. A majority believe that a “real” American: believes in free speech, cares about the welfare of all Americans equally, and knows all the words to the pledge of allegiance. George Washington was a real American as are: poor people, Hawaiians, Alaskans, people who live in the suburbs, or a big city, LGBT, millionaires, veterans, criminals, Jews, Mormons, atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants. Oddly, not “people who belong to a Christian church” whom only 48% think are real Americans. People who burn the flag, even though it’s an expression of the first amendment, are not considered real Americans by a majority of their fellow Americans.
Ipsos didn’t ask, but Burt Reynolds was a real American.
Where does that leave us?
We agree on many, many things as a nation. That set of shared values is part of what makes America, America. As is the fact that there is division. Few of these majority opinions reach 80%, let alone 100% of Americans. That separation is baked into our culture and reflects the different diversities that exist in the U.S. But people on both sides of an issue know how to trigger us into retreating to our political corners. Everyone knows the code words for their tribe, and we’re pretty good at hearing the code words the other tribes uses, too, and reacting accordingly.
“The struggle towards these shared ideals is what makes us American, not all the times we fall short,” says Ipsos’ Jackson. “Unfortunately, the failures tend to command more attention than the quiet successes. In these times where everything seems so polarized, it is hard to remember each other’s basic humanity.”
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