With July 4th approaching, more than 60 percent of Americans say the nation is more divided as a country now than it was 10 years ago, with even higher percentages saying America is at least as fragmented now as it was during the Great Depression, Vietnam, and Watergate. And perhaps most strikingly, one in five Americans doubts that America will remain united as one country. These are some of the findings of the 2013 The Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey, conducted by research firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) in partnership with global public relations and strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller.
This will mark the fifth consecutive year that Penn Schoen Berland and Burson-Marsteller have conducted an exclusive poll for the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is convened by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. It will be the second consecutive year the results will be published on TheAtlantic.com.
The results of this year’s survey will be delivered in a special presentation by Burson-Marsteller Worldwide Chair and Chief Executive Officer and Penn Schoen Berland Chair Don Baer, along with Aspen Institute Executive Vice President Elliot Gerson, The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief James Bennet, and Mark Penn, former CEO of Burson-Marsteller and Penn Schoen Berland and current Corporate Vice President at Microsoft. “Our work with Aspen and The Atlantic demonstrates our commitment to producing important, meaningful thought leadership that has a major impact on our understanding of the forces changing the world around us,” said Baer. “We hope this survey helps American understand what we need to do to stay strong as a country as we approach our 237th birthday as a nation.”
When survey respondents were asked which phrases of the Pledge of Allegiance (“one nation,” “under God,” “indivisible,” etc.) still apply to our nation today, the phrase that the fewest Americans (45 percent) said applies was “indivisible.” Despite these serious doubts about the state of the country today, unity is still an aspiration Americans say is important to strive for, with 96 percent of Americans saying it is important that America be united.
The pervasive sense that America is growing apart does not seem to come from the usual places. Instead of personal priorities, religion, or social issues, Americans say our political leaders are the source of disunity. Americans feel that “money in politics” is the biggest factor dividing America. The most popular prescriptions for helping the country become more united included: holding politicians more accountable; increasing cooperation between the major parties in Congress; and limiting the power of the federal government.
The study’s other key findings included:
“Equal opportunity” and “freedom of speech” were chosen as the most unifying American principles.
President Obama was named as both the most unifying and most divisive figure in the nation. Other people named as the most unifying figures included Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Most divisive figures included Rush Limbaugh, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Mitt Romney.
Abortion and gay marriage are seen as the most divisive social issues.
A strong majority (68 percent) of Americans believe the free enterprise system unites us rather than divides us.
A majority (81 percent) say reducing the gap between the rich and poor is important to American unity.
Eighty-nine percent of Americans say they believe in God, while 10 percent say they do not.
A majority of Americans (61 percent) think religion unites Americans.
Nearly half (48 percent) of Americans believe in a combination of evolution and creationism, while 29 percent believe in creationism alone, and 20 percent believe only in evolution.
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