Ninth Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll Examines Americans’ Views of Economic Opportunity in a Time of Demographic Transformation

In a rapidly diversifying America, whites and minorities share many common views about what it takes to succeed in today’s economy and a cultural optimism about the progress America has made in expanding opportunity for people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. However, they diverge in revealing ways about the role of government, the opportunities they see for the next generation, and the consequences of demographic change, according to poll results announced today by The Allstate Corporation and National Journal.

With the U.S. population projected to become “majority-minority” by 2042, the ninth quarterly Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll examined questions of economic opportunity and beliefs about the future of America across a spectrum of racial and ethnic groups.

The poll results show significant agreement about economic opportunity and the path to success in America. Most Americans believe the U.S. has made real progress on economic opportunity, with 55% saying the country is doing a better job now at creating equal opportunity across ethnic and racial lines than when they were younger. By a 2-1 margin, Americans believe that our free market economy is successful at creating more opportunity than problems. Across all backgrounds, education was considered the most important factor for success in America, followed by the state of the economy and an individual’s own skills, while only 2% of respondents believed it was a person’s racial or ethnic background.

The results also show that Americans of all backgrounds believe that economic divides between rich and poor are the most significant contributor to disagreements on important issues – a greater wedge than ethnic, racial, or cultural divides.

However, the survey points out notable divides in three areas: Americans’ opinions on the role of government in fostering economic opportunity, the opportunities they foresee for the next generation, and the potential costs and benefits of the demographic change sweeping America. While a plurality of white respondents (42%) said they believe “government is the problem” for our economic environment, only 25% of Hispanics, 17% of African-Americans, and 16% of Asians hold that view. There is a significant partisan divide here as well, with 58% of Republicans saying government is the problem, compared to 36% of independents and 18% of Democrats.

Despite optimism about their own opportunities, a large majority of Americans are concerned for the next generation, with only 33% saying they believe today’s children will have more opportunity to get ahead. Whites (24%) and Asians (37%) are significantly less likely to be optimistic for today’s children, while African-Americans (57%) and Hispanics (56%) are more hopeful.

Key findings from the ninth Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll (PDF) include:

1)  Americans share optimism about opportunity for themselves and the progress America has made on equal opportunity for all people. They are less optimistic for the next generation, and there are considerable differences by race and ethnicity.

  • Most Americans believe they have about the same or more opportunity to get ahead than their parents had, with 44% saying they have more opportunity, 24% saying it’s about the same, and 29% saying they have less opportunity.
    • African-Americans (69% see more opportunity), Hispanics (62%), and Asians (67%) are particularly optimistic about their opportunities compared to their parents.
    • White Americans are less optimistic, with only 36% saying they have more opportunity than their parents did.
  • Most Americans (55%) believe the country is providing more opportunity for people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds than when they were younger, while 30% say it is about the same, and only 14% say it is providing less.
  • Americans are less optimistic about opportunities for the next generation, with only 33% believing that today’s children will have more opportunity to get ahead. This continues a pattern from previous Heartland Monitor polls.
    • African-Americans (57% see more opportunity) and Hispanics (56%) are more optimistic for the next generation than are Asians (37%) and whites (24%).
  • When asked to choose the most important factor in determining a person’s ability to get ahead, Americans cite education most often (39%), followed by the state of the economy (23%), a person’s own skills (22%), and a person’s income level (9%). Only 2% of respondents chose a person’s ethnic or racial background as the most important factor.
    • Hispanics (53% education) and African-Americans (51%) were most likely to choose education, while whites were more closely divided between education (34%), economic conditions (28%), and a person’s own skills (23%).


2) Americans of all backgrounds believe that the country’s free market system works to create opportunity. Views on the role of government are more divergent, and show division along racial and ethnic lines, as well as partisan ones.

  • A strong majority of Americans express support for the free market economy, with 62% who say that, left to itself, the free market creates more opportunities than problems, while just 32% believe that it creates more problems than opportunities.
    • Whites (63%-31%), Hispanics (61%-30%) and Asians (61%-28%) are consistent in this belief, while African-Americans (49%-43%) are more split.
    • Partisan differences are more dramatic, between Republicans (79% more opportunities than problems), independents (59%), and Democrats (52%).
  • On the role of government in the economy, Americans are split among those who believe that “government is the problem” (36%), those who believe government should play an active role in the economy but are skeptical about its effectiveness (34%), and those who believe the government must play an active role (27%).
    • A plurality of whites (42%) say government is the problem, compared to only 25% of Hispanics, 17% of African-Americans, and 16% of Asians.
    • People of color are more likely to unreservedly endorse an active role, including 42% of African-Americans, 37% of Hispanics, and 36% of Asians.
    • Partisan differences also show up dramatically, with 58% of Republicans saying government is the problem, compared to 36% of independents and only 18% of Democrats. White Republicans (64%) are especially wary.
  • When asked which institution in society does the most to improve their lives, 31% of Americans say small businesses, 22% say community and nonprofit organizations, 14% say the government, 12% say big companies and 12% say religious institutions.
    • African-Americans (22%), Hispanics (22%), and Asians (23%) are twice as likely as whites (11%) to say government does the most.


3) Americans of all backgrounds believe disagreements in this country on important issues are driven more by income differences than any other difference, including ethnic or cultural divides.

  • Across all racial and ethnic lines, economic differences between rich and poor were consistently rated more important than political, cultural, generational, ethnic and racial, or religious differences as a factor contributing to Americans’ disagreements about important issues. A total of 57% rated economic differences at the high end of the scale, indicating they contribute “a great deal” to disagreements about important issues, while fewer than 46% assigned the same importance to cultural, ethnic/racial, generational or religious differences. The only factor that approached economic differences in importance was political differences, rated at the high end of the scale by 51% of respondents.
  • Hispanics rated cultural differences between native-born Americans and immigrants more important than other groups (57% chose the high end of the scale, versus 45% for all groups combined). African-Americans rated ethnic and racial differences more important than other groups (54% chose the high end of the scale, versus 35% for all groups). However, both Hispanics and African-Americans still rated those two factors well below economic differences in importance.


4) Americans are deeply ambivalent about the rapidly changing demographic face of the country and its impact on American culture and politics.

  • When informed that the U.S. is expected to have a “majority-minority” population by 2042, a full 50% of Americans agreed with the idea that the demographic trends are troubling because the population change is happening too quickly and changing the character and values of the U.S. during a time of economic crisis.
    • Majorities of whites (53%) and African-Americans (51%) took this position.
    • Among whites, older (56%), less-educated (58%), lower-income (56%), and Republican (59%) respondents were most likely to hold this view.
    • Among African-Americans, younger (55%), less-educated (56%) and lower-income (56%) respondents were most likely to hold this view.
  • The alternative view – that the trends reflect a positive American tradition of welcoming all backgrounds and that immigrant and minority populations contribute to America’s position as the world’s largest economy – was agreed with by 42% of respondents, including 60% of Hispanics and 62% of Asians.
  • A majority of Americans believe increased diversity will lead to both more racial tolerance (85%) and more racial tension (67%), as well as more success for minority-owned businesses (84%), more income inequality (64%), fewer skilled workers (62%), and fewer people upholding America’s cultural heritage (63%).
  • While 41% of Americans overall say racial and ethnic minorities have about the right amount of influence in the political process, people of color widely agree that they have too little, including 60% of African-Americans, 51% of Hispanics, and 53% of Asians.


5) Americans remain pessimistic about the direction of the country, but President Obama’s approval rating has improved slightly since the last poll. Opinions of the President and the country’s direction show sharp racial and ethnic divides.

  • Americans are still pessimistic about the direction of the country, with 58% saying it is on the wrong track, down only slightly from 60% in the March 2011 Heartland Monitor poll.
    • While 66% of whites say the country is on the wrong track, 57% of African-Americans say it is headed in the right direction.
  • President Obama’s approval (50%) and disapproval (42%) numbers have improved slightly since March, when they were 49%-44%.
    • Whites (43% approve) are much less likely to approve of the president’s job performance than Hispanics (65%), Asians (70%), or African-Americans (90%).
    • Whites (34% Obama, 54% someone else) are the only group who would not vote to re-elect President Obama today. Obama wins with Asians (49%-25%), Hispanics (52%-36%), and African-Americans (89%-5%).
  • Ethnic and racial minorities are also much more likely to believe the country’s economy will improve over the next 12 months, including 86% of African-Americans, 80% of Asians, and 74% of Hispanics, compared to just 54% of whites.


Notes to Editors

Survey Methodology

A nationally representative survey of American adults conducted May 18-23, 2011, among N=1,427 American adults age 18+. Respondents were reached via landline and cell phone. The survey included extra interviews in order to reach a significant number of African-Americans (N=305), Hispanics (N=304 total interviews), and Asians (N=110).  Hispanic respondents were given the option to take the survey in English or Spanish.

The data for the total American public represents all interviews conducted, weighted to N=1,000 interviews to match the demographic profile and geographic distribution of the country.  For purposes of this analysis, “white” adults refers to non-Hispanic whites, while “African-American/Black” adults refers to non-Hispanic African-American/Blacks. “Hispanics” self-identified as being of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish descent, regardless of racial background.

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