To Everything, There is a Study

Posted: Aug 21, 2007 12:03 AM
To Everything, There is a Study

With the first primary vote now merely four months away, hopelessness amongst Republicans seems to be growing and growing. One new study suggests there’s no need to fuss—that America’s happy, family-focused youth could usher in a renewed commitment to conservative values. Other research states outright that “the era of conservative values…is coming to a close.” Which is it?

The Associated Press and MTV conducted a joint online survey on “the nature of happiness among America’s young people,” in which they posed over 100 questions to 1,280 Americans between ages 13 and 24. The results were released Monday—and just might shock you.

The most frequent response to the open-ended question “What one thing makes you happy?” was spending time with family. A whopping 20 percent provided this answer to MTV—not your average family establishment.

It gets better. It’s not just family in general; parents are the primary factor. If you combine the responses which selected one or both parents, 73 percent said their relationship with their parents makes them happy. Parents have even more to celebrate:

When asked to name their heroes, nearly half of respondents mentioned one or both of their parents…with mothers ranking higher (29 percent) than fathers (21 percent).

This recognition of the importance of family is neither limited to an admiration of parents, nor nostalgic for an America that embraces family values. These young people already recognize the need for the family to remain an important establishment in their own futures and the future of America:

Overwhelmingly, young people think marriage would make them happy and want to be married some day. Most also want to have kids.

“Overwhelmingly” is almost an understatement. Later in the piece, the AP clarifies: “92 percent saying they either definitely or probably want to get married.”

The article even quotes a high school student from New York: “I don't want to be one of those career businesswomen who just doesn't ever settle down.”

Kids these days.

The optimistic results from this survey, however, reach more than just present and future parents; there’s reason for the nation as a whole to breathe a sigh of relief with regard to America’s youth.

On religion and spirituality, “more than half—55 percent—say it is either a very important part of life or the single most important thing in their lives….and more than half say they believe there is a higher power that has an influence over things that make them happy.”

I first heard these results on the radio Monday morning, and it caught my attention for obvious reasons, but most of all because of something I read Sunday afternoon.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, and Carroll Doherty, an associate director at the center, wrote an editorial (“Permanent Republican Majority? Think Again.”) that appeared in the Washington Post on Sunday, August 19. Displayed alongside a traffic sign denoting a left turn, the article asserted that the soon-to-resign Karl Rove’s dream of a “permanent Republican majority” was unlikely because of the leftward trend evident in new research from the center:

The era of conservative values—a tight-fisted approach toward government aid to the poor, traditional positions on social issues and a belief in a muscular foreign policy—that emerged in the 1990s is coming to a close.

Disenchanted by the failures of the Bush administration, the public is moving away from its policies, values, and ideology.

It sounds abstract in that introduction, but some values specifics emerge later in the editorial:

Support for traditional values on social issues such as homosexuality or the role of women has edged downward since 1994. There has been a downturn in the percentage endorsing "old-fashioned values about family and marriage," from percentages in the mid-80s in the past to 76 percent in the latest study.

The Pew Research Center also found that “half the public—50 percent—lines up with the Democratic Party, compared with 35 percent who align with the GOP.”

Interesting. There’s a bit of a disconnect here. The AP poll proves that America’s youth are surprisingly family-centric. Pew Research Center demonstrates that the country as a whole is racing leftward.

Let’s talk statistics for a minute. The AP asked nearly 1,300 people and Pew asked about 2,000. In the big picture, those numbers are fairly close, so it is unlikely that the sample size of the survey led to the misalignment.

What about how the results were obtained? Consider someone’s motivations for participating in a survey in the first place. For example, the official results from Pew explain that they randomly selected telephone numbers to solicit volunteers, and that “as many as 10 attempts were made to complete an interview.” From a statistical standpoint, sure, that’s effective, but I could also see myself agreeing to participate just to stop the annoying phone calls.

The MTV/AP results do not state how the participants were acquired, although it does note that the qualitative portion “included extensive field research with small discussion groups in diverse American cities around the country.” Merely from a common sense standpoint, you can see why this approach might lend itself to more positive, optimistic results than being harassed over the phone.

So, who to believe? Is America moving left? Are young Americans moving right?

The short answer is both.

Perhaps, as the Pew Research shows, the country has shifted gradually left in some ways. It is important to note, though, that many of the shifts occurred within ten percent, an unimpressive range over two decades. Look at the charts yourself; none of the images reflect drastic changes.

And even where there were some shifts left, there is still good news. According to Pew, 76 percent of Americans still have “old fashioned values about family and marriage” and nearly half of America still considers prayer an important part of their daily life. Things could be worse, right? Pair that with the new MTV/AP results, and there’s no reason to be alarmed about the future of America.

Since the midterm elections last fall, conservatives have longed to be inspired. Many Republicans are standing on the sidelines of the 2008 campaigns, waiting to rally around someone they believe in and believe can win. If a GOP campaign does not act fast, the happy and optimistic youth may be led astray by the empty and unrealistic promises of the Left. If, on the other hand, Republicans can engage America’s prayerful, optimistic, and grateful youth and finally show them that their vote matters, the political landscape in America will change drastically.


For more information, please refer to the following resources:

1.) Pew Research Center: Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007

Summary of Findings and Full Report (PDF)

2.) Associated Press-MTV: Youth Happiness Study

Summary of Findings and Full Report (PDF)