Commentary

Not A Good Decade, Say "The People"

According to The Pew Research Center For The People & the Press, as the current decade draws to a close, relatively few Americans have positive things to say about it. By roughly two-to-one, more say they have a generally negative rather than a generally positive impression of the past 10 years. This stands in stark contrast to the public's recollection of other decades in the past half-century. When asked to look back on the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, positive feelings outweigh negative in all cases.

Happy to put the 2000s behind them, most Americans are optimistic that the 2010s will be better. Nearly six-in-ten say they think the next decade will be better than the last for the country as a whole, though roughly a third think things will be worse.

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Impressions Of The Decades (% of Respondents)

 

Overall Impression of the:

General Impression

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000s

2010s EST

   Positive

34%

40%

56%

57%

27%

 

   Negative

15

16

12

19

50

   Neither

42

37

27

22

21

   Don't know

8

7

5

3

2

Expectation For 2010s

   Better

59%

   Worse

32

   Same

4

   Don't know

5

Source: Pew Research Center, December 2009

By a wide margin, the 9/11 terrorist attacks are seen as the most important event of the decade, with Barack Obama's election as president a distant second - even among his political supporters. And the sour view of the decade is broad-based, with few in any political or demographic group offering positive evaluations.

Clear majorities see cell phones, the internet and e-mail as changes for the better, and most also view specific changes such as handheld internet devices and online shopping as beneficial trends. Most see increasing racial and ethnic diversity as a change for the better, as well as increased surveillance and security measures and the broader range of news and entertainment options.

But the public is divided over whether wider acceptance of gays and lesbians, cable news talk and opinion shows, and the growing number of people with money in the stock market are good or bad trends. Reality TV shows are, by a wide margin, the least popular trend tested in the poll; 63% say these shows have been a change for the worse. Tattoos are also unpopular with many - 40% say more people getting tattoos is a change for the worse, though 45% say it makes no difference and 7% see it as a change for the better.

Opinions of Tech and Social Changes (% of Respondents)

Technology

Change For The Better

Hasn't Made Much Difference

Don't Know

Change For The Worse

Cell phones

69%

11%

5%

14%

Green products

68

22

3

7

Email

65

1

9

7

Internet

65

11

8

16

Increasing racial/ethnic diversity

61

25

5

9

Increased surveillance/security

58

21

3

17

Blackberry/iPhone

56

12

7

25

Online shopping

54

24

8

15

News & entertainment choices

54

27

3

16

Genetic testing

53

22

13

13

Accceptance of gays and lesbians

38

28

6

28

Social networking sites

35

31

12

21

Cable news talk and opinion shows

34

31

5

30

More people in stock market

31

26

9

34

Internet blogs

29

36

14

21

Reality TV shows

8

22

7

63

More people getting tattoos

7

45

8

40

Source: Pew Research Center, December 2009

The breadth and depth of discontent with the current decade is reflected in the words people use to describe it. The single most common word or phrase used to characterize the past 10 years is downhill, and other bleak terms such as poor, decline, chaotic, disaster, scary, and depressing are common. Other, more neutral, words like change, fair and interesting also come up, and while the word good is near the top of the list, there are few other positive words mentioned with any frequency.

There is no significant generational divide in impressions of the current decade: Roughly half in all age groups view the 2000s negatively, while less than a third rates the decade positively. This is in stark contrast to generational differences in views of previous decades.

The biggest generational division of opinion is in retrospective evaluations of the 1970s. Baby Boomers - most of whom are between the ages of 50 and 64 today and were between 20 and 34 in 1979 - view this decade in an overwhelmingly favorable light, with positive impressions outnumbering negative views by 48 points (59% positive vs. 11% negative). By contrast, people who were younger than 20 at the end of the 1970s - who are currently in their 30s and 40s - offer a less positive assessment; just 28% view the decade positively, 20% negatively, and 52% say neither or offer no opinion.

Most Americans (59%) think the next decade will be better than the current one for the country as a whole, and this perspective is widely shared across most political and demographic groups. But a significant minority - 32% - is of the view that things will be worse in the 2010s than in the 2000s. Generationally, Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 are the most pessimistic about the 2010s.

Expectations Of 2010s (% Respondents by Category)

 

Next Decade Will Be

 

Better

 Worse

Same/DK

Total

59%

32

9

Age

 

 

 

   18-29

65

29

7

   30-49

60

31

9

   50-64

50

42

8

   65+

62

26

13

Family income

 

 

 

   $75+

64

32

4

   $32-75K

61

33

6

   <$30K

58

30

12

Source: Pew Research Center, December 2009

Along religious lines, white evangelical Protestants take a far more pessimistic view of the next decade than other major religious groups. Just over half (52%) of white evangelicals predict that the coming decade will be worse than the current one, far more than the number of white mainline Protestants (29%), white Catholics (24%) or unaffiliated (28%) Americans who take this view.

The internet, perhaps the seminal technological development of recent decades, continues to be widely seen in a favorable light. About two-thirds (65%) say the internet has been a change for the better, while just 16% say it has been a change for the worse; 11% say it hasn't made much difference while 8% are unsure. This largely mirrors the balance of opinion at the close of the 1990s - the decade that saw the widespread adoption of the web.

Email is viewed as favorably as the internet itself. By an overwhelming margin, more say email has been a change for the better (65%) than say it has been a change for the worse (7%), while 19% say it hasn't made a difference. Very few young people, just 1%, say email has been a change for the worse, but a quarter of those who came of age in the current decade, with ever-increasing options for real-time, wireless communication, say email has not made much of a difference.

Cell phones are broadly embraced by the public as a change for the better. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) call cell phones a change for the better compared with just 14% who call them a change for the worse. Overall, the public's take on cell phones is slightly better than it was ten years ago.

The public is ambivalent when it comes to evaluating social networking sites such as Facebook. About a third (35%) call them a change for the better, 21% say they have been a change for the worse, while 31% say social networking sites have not made much of a difference and 12% are unsure. In fact, even among young people, fewer than half say social networking sites have been a change for the better.

And when it comes to internet blogs, the plurality opinion (36%) is that the emergence of blogs has not made much of a difference. Slightly fewer (29%) call them a change for the better, while 21% think they have been a change for the worse.

The public is divided about the effect of cable news talk and opinion shows; 34% say they have been a change for the better, 31% think they have made no difference and 30% say they have been a change for the worse. More young people think these shows have been a change for the worse than people 65 and older. Similarly, more college graduates say cable news talk and opinion shows have been a change for the worse than those with some college education or with a high school education or less.

The public overwhelmingly thinks that reality television shows have been a change for the worse; A plurality in all age groups says these shows have been a change for the worse. Even though a majority in all education groups says reality television shows have been a change for the worse; college graduates or those with some college education are more likely than those with a high school education or less to say they have been a change for the worse.

Reality TV: The Biggest Looser (% of Group Respondents)

 

Attitude About RealityTV

Group

Change For The Better

Change For The Worse

No Difference

Don't Know

Total

8

63

22

7

Age

 

 

 

 

   18-29

7

67

25

1

   30-49

10

63

22

5

   50-64

7

70

18

6

   65+

8

49

23

20

Education

 

 

 

 

   College grad+

6

72

16

7

   Some college

6

67

21

6

   HS or less

11

56

25

7

Source: Pew Research Center, December 2009

To see more details and charts & graphs, please visit Pew here.

 

 

 

 

2 comments about "Not A Good Decade, Say "The People"".
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  1. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., December 30, 2009 at 1:57 p.m.

    8 years of King George - what, seriously, did you expect?

  2. Phil Lollar from LollarWorks LLC, January 5, 2010 at 7:41 p.m.

    Yeah, but we said this about every decade when it just ended.

    And I'd rather have eight more years of freedom under "King George" over one more minute of economic fascism under demigod Obama and his regime of incompetent stooges.

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