Despite concerns about race relations and the direction of our country, young Americans still believe that America can provide them with the opportunity to move up the socioeconomic ladder. As the results of the fall 2016 Harvard Public Opinion Project poll show, the vast majority of respondents believed they would not be financially worse off than their parents in the future. In fact, only 14 percent of respondents believed they would be worse off than their parents. On the surface, this data seems to be at odds with the rest of young Americans’ views concerning our country. In fact, 74 percent of respondents said they were concerned about race relations and only 14 percent said they believed the country was headed in the right direction. This apparent paradox can be explained when considering the difference between the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential candidates and their actual policies.
The 2016 presidential election has taken a markedly different tone than that of previous presidential campaigns. Whereas past campaigns, such as President Obama’s 2008 campaign of “hope and change,” sought to rally together Americans, the 2016 presidential election has been filled with divisive rhetoric from all parties. Such comments have included Trump calling some Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists and Clinton lumping half of Trump’s supporters into what she called “a basket of deplorables.” It’s no wonder then why the majority of young Americans polled stated that they believe the tone of the 2016 presidential elections has hurt race relations in America.
With faltering confidence in Congress and the state of the presidential election, it also makes sense that young Americans are concerned about the future direction of our country. The majority of young Americans polled disapproved of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with disapproval rates of 53 percent and 74 percent respectively. Similar figures were seen when comparing the unfavorability rates of Clinton and Trump, which were 53 percent and 73 percent respectively. The only individual to receive an overall positive approval rating was President Obama at 57 percent. In aggregate, these numbers appear to paint a clear picture: young Americans are lacking confidence in both their current and future national government officials.
Although young Americans seem to be concerned about the current state of affairs in our nation, they still seem to have an underlying confidence in the future America holds for them. When young Americans are asked whether they believe they will be better off financially than their parents in the future, they are asked to consider the long-term direction of the country. The fact that the majority of respondents believed they would either be just as well off or better than their parents should serve as a clear indication then that young Americans are still hopeful about the future. A more detailed analysis of the figures may also reflect optimism when it comes to the future of race relations and progress for minority communities. Those most likely to believe they will be better off than their parents were black and Hispanic youth. Furthermore, within these communities, females were more likely to believe they would do better than their parents. In order to hold these beliefs, individuals must either have a positive view of the economic future of our country or believe that shattering the glass ceiling is within reach. Whether it is one or both of these beliefs driving confidence in young Americans, it is clear that the American Dream has not been lost in the next generation.
Young Americans are clearly concerned about the state of our country, and for good reason, considering the events of the 2016 presidential election. However, this does not mean that American Dream is dead. Rather, young Americans have optimism about their future economic success and there is a strong sense of hope when it come to progress for minority communities. Thus, whether voters decide that we need to “Make America Great Again” or realizes that we are “Stronger Together” it is clear that the American Dream is still alive and that young Americans still see the country as the land of opportunity.