The standout recollection from the 2016 election season may well be the rancor displayed between people who stood on opposing ends of the political continuum. It was abundantly and consistently obvious that America’s conservatives and liberals rarely agreed with each other. However, a new nationwide survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI) shows that those opposing groups are of one mind regarding several specific aspects of America’s future.
Society is Not Healthy
The national sample of 1,000 adults by ACFI found that adults on both sides of the ideological divide concurred that American society is not healthy these days. Just one out of every five adults (22%) said our society is healthy: 8% believed it is getting healthier, 6% said it is healthy but not getting better or worse, and 8% said it is healthy but on the decline. The same proportion – one out of five (22%) – believed society is equally healthy and unhealthy. About half of the nation, though, contended that our society is unhealthy. That was divided into those who said it is unhealthy but improving (13%); unhealthy and not changing (13%); and unhealthy and getting worse (23%). The remaining 7% did not know how to assess American society.
Liberals and conservatives were very similar in their perspectives. Among conservatives, 21% said society is currently healthy, 20% said it is equally healthy and unhealthy, and 57% said it is unhealthy. Among liberals, 22% called society healthy, 23% said it is both healthy and unhealthy, and 53% described it as unhealthy.
Adults who are devoutly Christian and politically conservative were the most likely of all segments to cite our society as unhealthy. Among Integrated Disciples – i.e., adults who have a biblical worldview – 71% believe US society is presently unhealthy, far beyond the 48% of those who have some other worldview who see American society an unhealthy. Similarly, SAGE Cons – i.e., Spiritually Active, Governance Engaged Conservative Christians – are far more likely than other adults to view society as unhealthy (68% versus 47%, respectively).
Social Transition Time
Three out of four adults would like to see America transition from its current condition into a different society. That desire is divided into 50% who believe such a shift is “necessary” and 24% who say the shift is “preferable but not necessary.” That left only 10% who say such a transition is “not necessary” with one-sixth of the public (16%) not sure.
Several groups emerged as those that are most eager for a different type of society to emerge. Those with the highest numbers suggesting that societal change is necessary included Integrated Disciples (62%), SAGE Cons (60%), born again Christians (56%), and people in the 30-to-64 age bracket (53%).
And once again, conservatives and liberals shared the same view – although perhaps not for the same reasons or with the same end result in mind. Overall, 57% of each of those ideological segments argued that a different type of American society is necessary.
Interestingly, the survey also revealed that people’s preferred news medium was related to their view about society’s best future. Those who rely upon radio as their primary news source were most likely to see such change as necessary (61%), followed by people who get their news online (55%), and then by people who rely upon television for their news (50%). The people who were least likely to vie for a renewed society tended to rely upon print media – newspapers and magazines – for their news. The survey also discovered that the segment most likely to say social change is either necessary or preferable were those who get the bulk of their news online (83%).
Profiling the Culture
Conservatives – especially Christians who are conservative – are generally disgruntled over the state of society. While the survey indicated that the election of Donald Trump has revived optimism among a small share of them, the group generally believes that there is a long way to go before America is healthy again. For instance, a companion survey conducted by ACFI found that nine out of ten SAGE Cons (94%) admitted that they are either “not too satisfied” or “not at all satisfied” with the state of American culture these days.
When given 18 adjectives that could be used to describe American culture today, the responses painted a clear portrait of the nation as they see it.
More than nine out of every ten SAGE Cons felt that our culture is fast-paced (mentioned by 97%); self-indulgent (96%); selfish (94%); and corrupt (92%). More than eight out of ten SAGE Cons also said American culture is decadent (88%); intolerant (83%); and mean-spirited (82%).
A minority of the SAGE Con population believes that American culture is celebrative (40%); intellectual (29%); or friendly (20%). No more than one out of every eight of them contend that our culture is affirming (12%), emotionally safe (10%); transparent (8%); spiritual (8%); family-friendly (6%); or uplifting (3%). The lowest-rated attribute was describing American culture as biblical; only 2% embraced that description.
Be the Change?
Among SAGE Cons, seven out of ten adults (69%) said they are either “extremely interested” or “very interested” in being involved in activities designed to produce positive cultural transformation in America. An additional 26% said they are “somewhat interested.” As a testimony to how desperate SAGE Cons are for cultural change, a mere 4% said they are “not too interested” or “not at all interested” in facilitating positive cultural transformation.
What types of entities have been serving as models and conduits for such positive movement? The types of organizations offered as those responsible for the greatest degree of positive change in 2016 were churches (listed by 47%); families (19%); and non-profit organizations (14%).
On the other hand, the types of organizations viewed as least productive in bringing about positive cultural change were the news media (listed by 34%); the federal government (27%); and the arts and entertainment media (17%).
The types of entities that were generally considered to not be significantly involved in cultural change, for better or worse, included large and small business, public schools, state and local governments, the courts, the healthcare industry, and the military.
Igniting the Match
George Barna, who directed the research through the American Culture & Faith Institute, drew several conclusions from the data.
“Christian conservatives want to see things happen now,” the veteran researcher reflected. “They believe cultural conditions are abysmal and that the recent election has provided a small window of opportunity and some momentum to enable positive changes to take place in America. They seem to be expecting churches and non-profit organizations, in particular, to step up and initiate significant courses of social action.”
Barna also took issue with some of the perceptions of SAGE Cons regarding recent social change. “It would be difficult to defend the widespread notion that businesses, the public schools, state and local governments, and the courts have little or no impact on the direction and nature of American society,” the long-time cultural analyst stated. “While it is true that those entities receive comparatively little attention in the media regarding the role they play in shaping society, more objective analyses of how things work in our culture suggest those players cannot be ignored.
“Research consistently indicates that people are unaware of who has influence on their thinking and behavior,” Barna continued. “When asked to describe such influence, people often rely upon cultural stereotypes and personal assumptions without the benefit of objective, large-scale, data-based analyses. To make significant and positive changes in the world you need a realistic understanding of who has power and influence, and who is responsible for determining the direction and nature of society as it exists today. You cannot effectively change what you don’t understand, and you are unlikely to confront that which is culturally invisible. For conservative change agents to facilitate meaningful progress, educating their supporters about how things really work within our society is one of their most serious challenges.”
About the Research
The research described in this report is drawn from two national public opinion studies conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI).
The first of those is the FullView™ surveys, which are monthly, online studies among a nationwide random sample of adults. The survey referred to in this report was conducted March 22-29, 2017, with 1,000 respondents age 18 or older whose demographic profile reflects that of the United States.
The second piece of research utilized for this report is part of the RightView™ longitudinal survey, a national study undertaken among spiritually active, governance engaged conservatives – a segment known as SAGE Cons. The new national survey conducted for this report had a sample size of 650 qualified adults and was conducted online by the American Culture & Faith Institute during January 2017.
In RightView™ studies SAGE Cons are identified as adults who are registered voters; conservative on political matters; have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior; are active in pursuing their Christian faith; and are actively engaged in politics and government. They represent about 8% to 10% of the national adult population, which constitutes a segment of some 20 to 25 million individuals.
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.
Additional information about this study and related research is accessible on the American Culture & Faith Institute website, located at www.culturefaith.com. To receive a free copy of the weekly research reports produced by ACFI, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.