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Just 1 in 3 US voters still believe in ‘American dream’ – poll

The portion of Americans who think anyone who works hard can get ahead in life has halved since last year

Just over a third of Americans (36%) still have faith in the so-called American dream, the idea that anyone can advance if they work hard, a Wall Street Journal-NORC poll published on Friday found. That’s barely half the percentage who responded affirmatively to a similar question last year, reflecting an increasingly bleak outlook for the US economy.

While 45% thought the American dream once held true but no longer did, 18% said it had never been true – more than double the percentage of respondents who had given the same answer ten years ago. 

Belief in this idea, once central to the American identity, has seemingly plummeted since last year, when 68% of poll respondents agreed with a similarly-worded statement: “If people work hard, they are likely to get ahead in America.” However, a more modest 48% of those polled by another survey provider in 2016 still believed in the American dream, down from 53% in 2012. 

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Most Americans feel poorer under Biden – poll

Half of the respondents to Friday’s poll, conducted last month, said life in the US was worse than 50 years ago, while just 30% said it had gotten better. Half also agreed that the economic and political system was “stacked against people like [them],” while just 39% disagreed.

The percentage who saw themselves as a disadvantaged class held largely constant from last year, when 51% agreed with the statement “Often, I feel like I am one of the people the elites in this country look down upon” and 39% disagreed.

Age was a major predictor of belief in the American dream, with just 28% of those under age 50 having faith that hard work would get them ahead in life, compared to 48% of those over 65. Men were far more likely to have confidence in the power of hard work than women (46% vs 28%).

Despite this apparent disillusionment, respondents had a more favorable outlook on the economy than in two previous WSJ-NORC polls, with 35% rating it as “good” or “excellent” compared to just 17% who said the same in May 2022. Inflation has dropped from last year’s four-decade high, meaning Americans may be having an easier time making ends meet, though prices remain significantly higher than before the Covid-19 pandemic and other recent polls indicate the economy remains a major source of anxiety.

US President Joe Biden has struggled to shore up support for his reelection amid widespread perception he has mismanaged the economy. Over half of respondents to a Financial Times-Michigan Ross survey conducted earlier this month said they were financially worse off under Biden, while nearly half agreed the Democrat’s policies had hurt the economy.

November 24, 2023 at 10:22PM

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