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Date December 2, 2019
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Poll reveals generational, political divides over economic outlook

Asked whether the economy is doing well, Americans do not see eye to eye, according to a new poll from Brown’s Taubman Center — they do agree that the government cannot be trusted and that school safety is under threat.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Are things looking up for America’s economy? Your answer probably depends on your age and political affiliation, a new poll shows.

The poll results, released on Monday, Dec. 2, by the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy at Brown University, show that Democrats and Republicans do not see eye to eye on the country’s economy or on the state of its government — and nor do young adults and seniors.

According to data from 1,000 responses to a 24-question survey, conducted via the web on Oct. 10 and 11, 77% of self-identified Republicans in the U.S. believe the economy is getting better, while just 14% of Democrats believe the same. And while 51% of adults age 65 or older were optimistic about the country’s economic future, only 31% of adults ages 18 to 29 thought things were improving.

Asked about the current state of the economy, just 28% of Democrats characterized it as “good,” compared to 85% of Republicans. And while nearly two-thirds of seniors thought the economy was doing well, only 41% of adults younger than 30 agreed.

“We saw evidence of deep partisan and age divides in our country in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and the results of this poll confirm those differences in opinion haven’t eased,” said Susan Moffitt, director of the Taubman Center. “If younger generations were to turn out to vote at higher rates than usual in the 2020 election, we could see changes in leadership.”

Poll respondents were also divided along partisan lines on what they perceive as the biggest problem facing the country today, Moffitt said. Nearly half of Democrats polled said they believe the problem is U.S. President Donald Trump, ahead of the economy, health care, education and eight other hot-button issues; Republicans, by contrast, said they believe the biggest problems are immigration (28%) and government corruption (21%).

There was at least some disagreement between Republicans and Democrats — and between younger and older adults — on almost every topic covered in the poll, from safety in schools and cities to personal finances. But the majority of the population did agree on one thing: the government is not trustworthy.

In response to the statement, “When I think about our government, I think that it can be trusted to do what is right,” 56% of all respondents said they somewhat or strongly disagreed. Seniors were the least likely to find the government trustworthy, with just 15% registering agreement with the statement; Republicans were most likely, with 27% agreeing.

More than half of all respondents also disagreed with the statement “I think that our government listens to people like me” and agreed with the statement “I think that [the government] benefits other people more than it benefits me” — revealing, Moffitt said, that many millions of Americans don’t feel heard or supported by national leaders.

“These views reflect a core challenge facing American democracy today — the challenge of representation,” Moffitt said.

The Taubman Center poll also showed that Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 feel the least secure about their personal finances. Just 39% of those in that age group said they felt good about their current savings, compared to 63% of seniors and 41% of adults younger than 30. And 48% of 50- to 64-year-olds said they did not feel confident about their ability to pay for an unforeseen expense, compared to 20% of seniors, 36% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 39% of under-30s.

The poll also reveals that most Americans believe safety in their own communities has neither improved nor worsened in the past decade — but half of respondents said they believe schools and cities are less safe today. Forty-two percent said they believed that the nation as a whole had become less safe.

Methodology and data

The poll results were based on an online panel of respondents that the nonpartisan polling organization YouGov selected using a technique called matched random sampling.

“YouGov starts by drawing a random sample from the target population — U.S. adults — using the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year sample,” explained Paul Testa, an assistant professor of political science at Brown. “Next, YouGov uses an algorithm to select respondents from its online panel of 1.8 million U.S. residents who are a close match to the individuals sampled from the ACS on gender, age, race and education. The final results are then weighted by respondents’ 2016 presidential vote choice and a four-way stratification of gender, age, race and education.”

Overall, the approach yields a national sample of comparable utility to other common methods like telephone surveys using random digit dialing, Testa added.

The raw data are available on the Taubman Center website, along with an interactive tool that allows users to quickly create visual representations of the data.

The full sample has a model-based margin of error of +/- 3.4%, with a larger margin for subgroup results. This margin is based on a specific set of statistical assumptions rather than conventional random sampling — only if these assumptions hold is the margin accurate.


Editor’s note: The poll detailed in the news story about was re-fielded on Dec. 19 to 23, 2019, after YouGov, which was commissioned to conduct the survey, reported to the Taubman Center that the quality of the original results had been compromised. It is YouGov’s standard practice to exclude recently joined panelists from political tracking surveys, as during election seasons there are individuals who join survey panels with the express intention of distorting results in favor of a particular candidate. Unfortunately, the recent panelist exclusion was inadvertently omitted, which compromised the quality of the sample. While the percentages noted in this story have changed slightly, the re-fielded data continue to corroborate general trends noted here. Full results of the re-fielded December poll are available on the Taubman Center website.