A new study suggests that this election may be as much about freedom as anything else, with those placing the highest value on it increasingly identifying with the Republican Party.
The report is titled, "The American Dream 2004" and was commissioned by the National League of Cities. It is based on a national public opinion survey completed in August. The purpose of the report was to find out whether people still believe in the American Dream, whether it is still achievable and what it means.
The good news is that 63 percent of Americans believe that they are presently living the American Dream. Moreover, 62 percent believe that it is achievable for most Americans and 65 percent think their children have a good shot at it. Even among those who those who say they are not living the American Dream themselves, 42 percent are fairly confident that they will achieve it some day.
Of course, the American Dream means different things to different people. For the bulk of people, it means a good job and financial security. But, somewhat surprisingly, living in freedom was the second most important factor. And when people were given a chance to mention the two most important factors to them, living in freedom was the most frequently mentioned thing that defined the American Dream to them.
Among those who cite freedom as an essential element of the American Dream, young people were most likely to list it as number one. Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 cited living in freedom as the key element of the American Dream 45 percent of the time. By contrast, only 24 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64 put freedom at the top of their list.
Race, sex, income and education also play a role in how important freedom is to the American Dream. Whites are more likely to see it as important, blacks and Hispanics less so. Men are more likely than women to cite the importance of freedom, and those with higher incomes and education are more likely to do so than those with less.
Politically, 44 percent of Republicans say that freedom defines the American Dream, while only 29 percent of Democrats do.
When asked about barriers to the American Dream, a poor public education topped the list for every group except blacks, who cited racial discrimination. Younger people are more likely to put poor education at the top of their list than older people, perhaps because they are closer to it and because our educational system has deteriorated since many older people were in school.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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