Americans are close to evenly split on whether the U.S. has gotten better or worse in the past 60 years, according to a new survey from the nonprofit organization PRRI.
Fifty-one percent say that American culture and way of life have worsened since the 1950s, while 48 percent say they have changed for the better.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Seventy-two percent of likely Trump voters think things have changed for the worse, while about 70 person of Clinton voters think things have changed for the better.
“This election has become a referendum on competing visions of America’s future,” Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s CEO, said in a statement. “Donald Trump supporters are nostalgic for the 1950s, an era when white Christians in particular had more political and cultural power in the country, while Hillary Clinton supporters are leaning into ― and even celebrating ― the big cultural transformations the country has experienced over the last few decades.”
Democrats, millennials, black Americans and people who aren’t affiliated with any religion ― all groups that are largely backing Clinton ― are among the most likely to think that things have improved. Republicans, white evangelical Protestants and members of the white working class ― groups that have shown more support for Trump ― are the most likely to express nostalgia for the 1950s.
“We argue over whether we’re divided by race, class, gender or religion,” columnist E.J. Dionne said Tuesday at a panel discussing the poll’s release. “What’s really scary about this poll is that we are divided by all of the following: class, race, gender and religion. We are deeply divided by these things.”
A similar survey question from Pew Research found that Trump and Clinton supporters are also divided over how life has changed specifically for “people like them” ― Clinton supporters say by a 40-point margin that it has gotten better over the past 50 years, but Trump supporters say by a 70-point margin that it’s gotten worse.
The PRRI survey also expands on a commonly asked question: Whether the United States is on the wrong track or headed in the right direction. On average, polls find fewer than one-third of Americans say they think the country is on the right path, a number that’s often cited as proof of a high level of national disaffection. But results have been low on that metric for decades, leading some to question its usefulness as a measure of popular sentiment.
In the PRRI poll, 74 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, but 30 percent say that it’s only been headed that way for a few years, while 44 percent say it’s been off course for a long time.
The poll surveyed 2,010 adults between Sept. 1 and Sept. 27, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones.