President Donald Trump campaigned on a plan to “Make America Great Again.” It’s a pledge he wore on his metaphorical sleeve and his literal head. As famously coiffed as that head is, Trump clearly felt that #MAGA, as it came to be hashtagged, was an important enough statement to cover up that legendary hair with red-roped hats. This isn’t meant to make light. It’s a slogan and concept that resonated with voters and propelled him to the White House.
But like all campaign promises, its progress should be evaluated.
To that end it’s important to find out what that phrase invokes for Americans. Ipsos has begun asking Americans “How great do you think America is?” It’s a simple-— though loaded-— question and one which the polling firm intends to track throughout Trump’s presidency.
On the surface, most believe America is pretty darn great. We give ourselves a 7.3 out of 10, giving Trump a solid baseline early in his presidency with room to improve. But digging deeper you find some expected, and some surprising, fault lines.
Overall, 51% of Americans surveyed in mid-May think America is at least an 8 out of 10 on a scale of “Greatness” where 10 is the “Greatest in Every Way” and 1 is “Not Great in Any Way.” Republicans are much more likely (69%) to agree that America is at least an 8, as are men (59% to 44% for women), older Americans and those with higher incomes. Republicans generally gave our greatness higher scores than Democrats. A quarter of Republicans and a slightly higher number of parents give America a perfect 10. Not bad.
When was America greatest?
To “Make America Great again” it’s useful to know when was it greatest. Maybe the 49% who give America a 7 or less think we need to get back to this former standard of greatness. So Ipsos asked, “when, if ever, do you think America was greatest?”
Overall, the most popular answers were the 1990s and present day. Slightly more people voted for “It was never great” than said the 1970s. Take that, disco. But again that’s just the overall surface vote. Millennials (18 – 34) think they have lived in great time –59% say the 1980s through present day were our greatest decades. Granted, 14% of the Millennials are in the “never great” camp. The 55+ crew of Baby Boomers and beyond are most likely (21%) to say the 1950s were America’s greatest decade.
Non-white respondents also tend to think that things have mostly been greater in recent decades. The 1990s were the selection of three in ten. But nearly one in five (three times as many as whites) said that America was never great.
In a recently-released Global Trends Study, Ipsos found that 46% feel that they have been left behind by the progress and changes happening in the U.S. Certainly the gains haven’t been realized equally by all groups. It’s therefore not surprising that at least some Americans have a deep nostalgia for earlier days. Some, even, as Chuck Klosterman pointed out, are harkening back to a time they never personally lived in.
Thus far we’ve talked a lot about how great America is. We haven’t, however, defined our terms. What factors do or could make America greatest? Ipsos asked the respondents to rate 12 possible factors on a scale of importance.
What makes America great?
So what makes America great? We do. Across the board, “the American People” is the choice of most Americans in terms of what they rank as “extremely important.” Perhaps shockingly near the bottom of the list, only 36% rate “our political system” as extremely important. That might be related to the overwhelming lack of trust Americans hold in the national government. According to the Ipsos Global Trends Study, only 44% of Americans trust their government to treat them fairly – compared to 83% who trust in their grocery store or 54% who trust their cable company. Clearly there is some room for improvement on the greatness scale there.
Other key contributors, according to the study, to the “greatness of America” include: our education system, or economy, our freedom of religion, racial equality and justice system. Our natural resources, freedom of the press, military and diversity lag slightly behind. At the bottom of the list, overall, is our right to bear arms with a mere three in ten saying it’s an extremely important factor.
This is a good place to start looking at some of our demographic differences. Republicans are three times as likely as Democrats to cite the 2nd amendment (47% to 17%). The parties are fairly aligned on freedom of religion. Freedom of the press sees higher support among Democrats, as does our diversity and racial equality. Republicans think that our military is a greater contributor to great, as do older (55+) Americans. Younger Americans (18-34) are more likely to see racial equality as an important contributor. Overall, however, there’s surprisingly little variation among ages and political affiliation.
Also interesting is the impression that each of these 12 concepts are important to “America’s Greatness.” Only the military and freedom to bear arms had any measurable number of people say they aren’t very or not at all important.
So America, there you have it. You think you’re pretty great now. Most concur that you’re about as great as you’ve ever been. Perhaps the slogan will change to something like “Make America Keep Getting Greater,” but then again #MAGA makes for a better hashtag than MAKGG so maybe the red hats, at least, are already at peak greatness.