The focus on family values also highlights a tension in American life brought about by changing social and economic circumstances, and perhaps the simple passage of time. Most Americans view the decline of traditional families over the past few decades as negative, but also see raising kids in a dual wage-earning household as the new norm. In this new world, 39 percent of American parents want to spend more time with their children but half of them believe their children can grow up to be successful even if they spend a majority of their developmental years in day care or other children's services. However, it is men, not women, who are most likely to say that they are not getting adequate time with their children.
Few younger people believe in mandatory military service, but there is general agreement that perhaps we should have some kind of national community service.
Americans continue to put faith in education as the key to success. Seventy-six percent of parents responded that they are focused on their children's future success and believe that instilling values like dedication, hard work, and career preparation should be the primary goals of public schools. Americans are thus keenly aware of the impact of their values on future generations. More than 8 in 10 of Americans think public education is a central American value, one that that ensures opportunity and success for all Americans. But almost half of Americans give our schools as a whole a "C," highlighting a central problem we face.
However, the most important challenge that we face as a nation stems from the crisis of our capitalist values. Most Americans believe that obsession with money and material things, the influence of money in politics, and political corruption are weakening national values. More than two-thirds of Americans think the U.S. economy is on the wrong track--a consistent opinion that has held across the last three years--and 52 percent believe that the economy and jobs are the single most important issues facing the country. When compared with the next most important issues, deficit and government spending and health care--both at just 6 percent--the poll provides a clear picture of what the defining element of the 2012 election campaign will be.
But concerns about the economy are not simply a matter of policy and direction. Half of Americans think the economic system is unfair to the middle and working classes. A majority of young Americans and 49 percent of the general population believe that wealthy Americans had more opportunities than others in achieving their financial success. Only 39 percent of Americans - and 34 percent of our young - believe they worked harder than others to be successful. The view that what is good for business is good for America is losing resonance with younger Americans (only 35 percent support this view), and among the general population only four out of 10 Americans agree with the statement.
But these cynical answers seem to be part of a slowly creeping narrative underwritten by the media (which scored extremely low in the poll) about America being driven by wealth and unfairness over merit and accomplishment. But while Americans are cynical about the country, they have a better view of their own lives and communities. Americans rated their own schools a B while rating everyone else's a C. And while they say that working and middle-class Americans have been hurt by the free-enterprise system, most working-class, middle-class, and upper-middle class voters when asked about themselves say that they have been helped more than hurt by our economic system. And 70 percent of Americans still believe they can get anything they want in the U.S. through sheer hard work. Americans say the system is broken, yet many still believe in it for themselves.
Only 17 percent of Americans believe that Wall Street executives share the same fundamental values as other Americans, a point that all Democrats, Republicans, and Independents agree with overwhelmingly. They see the executives as Gordon Gekkos, driven by self and greed. Overall, 71 percent of Americans think more Wall Street executives should have gone to jail for their roles in the financial crisis.
The crisis of confidence in the American financial and economic system is also reflected in our politics. Seven in 10 Americans believe that elected officials reflect mainly the values of the wealthy, not the values of middle- and working- class Americans, a finding that is consistent across all age groups. Regardless of party and affiliation Americans are united in their belief that money and lobbyists have too much influence in politics. Seventy-four percent of Americans, including 73 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Republicans, agree with this statement. Furthermore, 8 in 10 Americans think there is too much money being spent on political campaigns, a finding consistent across all demographic subgroups. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that there is too much money concentrated among a small number of groups and individuals being spent on political campaigns in America.