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Obama’s tattered legacy: A withered American Dream

By JOHN ZOGBY
July 22, 2011

President Barack Obama: Has hope left the room (Reuters)

Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign trumpeted hope for the future, but his legacy may include presiding over the withering of the American Dream. Belief that the American Dream is possible has dropped by nearly 20 points since his election, falling just below one-half of U.S. adults.

My research since 1998 about the American Dream has shown its definition evolving away from material wealth and toward spiritual happiness (both secular and religious.) So this drop in belief hints that our economic and political problems are shaking American confidence about the future and even our way of life.

This should be an enormous problem for a president seeking re-election, especially since Republican opposition makes it nearly impossible to stimulate employment in ways Obama would prefer. However, stridency from that opposition and weakness of the Republican field put Obama in much better position than the situation should allow.

And here is another twist on why Obama can survive this national malaise. Demographic groups loyal to Republicans are more likely to believe in the American Dream than are Democratic base voters. In 2008, Obama carried voters who did not believe they could achieve the American Dream by two-to-one, lost to John McCain those who did believe in the dream and still won the election. Our July 15-18 IBOPE Zogby interactive poll showed the largest drops in belief coming from groups most likely to vote against Obama.

Let’s look at our data to give you a better understanding of these dynamics. In an interactive poll taken immediately after Obama’s 2008 election, 68% of adults said it is possible for them and their families to achieve the American Dream, and 18% said it did not exist. Almost as many (62%) agreed most middle class families could achieve it. Our poll taken a week ago showed 49.7% believing the dream was achievable for their families, 30% saying it did not exist and 44% agreeing it is achievable for most middle class families.

As you would expect, confidence to achieve the American Dream rises with household income, but changes from 2008 to now don’t consistently follow according to income. The group whose confidence has been least changed (down five percentage points to 67%) and is now highest is the middle income household of $75,000 to $100,000. (In households making $25,000 or less, 33% still believe the dream is within their reach.)

There was little change over three years in how people defined the American Dream. In 2008, 38% defined it as material goods and 43% said it was spiritual happiness. Now, 40% choose the material and 37% spiritual. Above I suggested our loss of national confidence is about more than just economic well-being. The reason is our finding that those who define the American Dream as material are only slightly more likely to say it doesn’t exist than are those who define it as spiritual happiness. It seems we have both an economic and psychological recession.

In terms of political affilaition, Republican leaning groups show the largest declines in belief in the dream. Here are percentages from 2008 and now: Republicans 82% to 60%, those 65 and older 69% to 36% and conservatives 83% to 57%. Democratic base voters also showed a loss of faith in achieving the American Dream between the two polls, but not as great: Democrats 57% to 46%, liberals 52% to 40% and ages 18-29 69% to 55%. Among independent voters, their totals went from 63% in 2008 to 45% now.

Independent are the voters Obama is appealing to in the debt limit debate by trying to show he is the one willing to compromise and even go against his base to win an agreement and avert default.

That is a good political approach to governance in a time of such voter disaffection. Soon it will be time to go into full campaign mode. Obama came into the presidency at a low point and his ascendancy was in many was similar to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Democrats hoped he would use government as FDR did to ignite the economy. Instead, his first term now more closely resembles that of Harry Truman – recession, foreign threats galore, and challenges to whether this President is up to the job. Truman’s party split on the left and right, but he ultimately ran against a “do-nothing” Congress controlled by Republicans. Obama is expecting liberals to forgive his compromises and vote to throw out Republicans who have opposed him at nearly every turn. Rather than go on the defensive, Obama will have to take a page from Truman by giving hell to Republicans and trying again to give hope to an electorate that is fast losing it.

9 Responses to Obama’s tattered legacy: A withered American Dream

  1. Almandine

    July 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Funny how the problem, as discussed here, is a tattered legacy for the big zero, when the real problem is a tattered country.

    • Carl Nemo

      July 22, 2011 at 11:37 pm

      That’s what is most disgusting about articles of this nature is that it reinforces the ‘cult of the imperial presidency’ with the health of the nation last on the public agenda.

      I could give a flying flip less about this guy’s political future. He’s long overdue for a seaboot launch over the stern of the USS America. Hopefully he won’t be reelected, but Americans are so so stupid when it comes to choosing their representatives to run this nation, evidently myself included. I voted for this slick-talking disappointment and have paid the price along with millions of my fellow citizens. Maybe Goldman Sachs will hire him as a PR pitchman when he steps down from office. It’s the same sorry situation at state and local levels too.

      Carl Nemo **==

  2. griff

    July 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Ah yes…The fabled American Dream. Wherefore art thou, American Dream? Under a rock?
    Inside my sock?
    Under my smock?
    Poppycock!
    No such thing as the American Dream.

    I did my best, Bryan. Too much Dr. Suess, too little Shakespeare.

    • bmclellan

      July 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm

      I tip my hat to you, Sir ShakesSuess, rotflmao !

      • griff

        July 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm

        Ha. Thanks Bryan McLellan of the clan McLellan. There can be only one!

  3. eve

    July 25, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Looking to the government to provide them with the “American dream” was everyone’s first mistake.

    If you want to achieve the “American Dream” less government involvement is the answer.

    Less DHS, TSA, and the like.

    Think congress gives a rats behind about the “American Dream?”
    They ARE living the “American Dream” while the middle class gets the middle finger.
    LOL!

  4. Fivebyfives

    July 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Obama inherited a tattered American Dream. His has been the function of a catalyst, not a leader. His efforts are ostensibly to re-elect himself so as to continue “saving” whatever it is he thinks worth saving. Mainly his own ass at the expense of everyone and everything else.

    Ask yourself this: “Are you in?” Aside from being totally puerile and asinine, it does beg the question as to what the word “in” means. In that Obama is triangulating as good as Clinton did. Anyway, the people who did not vote for him are not “in.” Also, the people who DID vote for him or not “in.”

    That just leaves Mother Nature’s Silver Seed (to quote Neil Young) who are self-chosen and self-congradulating on their path to an Oz-like nirvana.

    In the campaign of 1996, Bill Clinton went on relentlessly about this “bridge to the 21st century.” We have two, actually. One if made of concrete and steel, designed to carry fast and heavy traffic. The other is a slipshod, bamboo affiar that can barely handle foot traffic.

    And President Obama is working hard to put toll booths on both of them.

  5. Rick

    July 25, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Obama…a Hoover for the 21st century.