24 May 2016

Ten key findings about today’s USA from YouGov’s Portrait of America polling


The Portrait of America polling will shortly move to another platform but as I wrap things up, here on CapX, I thought I’d reflect on the findings published here and choose ten that have most interested me – beginning with the most natural CapX topic: economics and US attitudes to government intervention, free trade and Wall Street – before listing some of the wider conclusions…

(1) 54% of Democrats, 65% of Republicans say free trade has been bad for US

We know that opinion in the US has been trending against free trade for a number of years and both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have exploited protectionist sentiment as a consequence. Earlier this month we discovered the horrific (in my view) extent of that trend:


And as we noted at the time, opposition to free trade was greatest amongst the party of Reagan and Bush – the Republicans. Trump’s nomination suddenly seemed less surprising.

(2) By three to one, Wall Street is seen as greedy rather than good

Another indication of the anti-establishment economic views of the US people came in February. Asked to say how they largely saw Wall Street, 65% chose “a place of too much greed” and a very possible cause of the next recession while only 22% saw it as an “important part of the US economy and largely run by good people”:


Mrs Clinton’s connections with Wall Street have been exploited by Senator Bernie Sanders and for good electoral reasons – according to YouGov’s First Verdict panel. Within the post on attitudes to Wall Street we also noted that 44% of Americans thought the likely Democratic nominee for the White House would “listen too much to the richest and most powerful people in America”.

(3) Americans want more economic intervention from government

Completing our economics-focused findings – and the third in a row that should have troubled America’s big business community – we found, in early March, that investing more in schools, science and infrastructure; changing trade and immigration policies so that American workers are better protected from “unfair competition”; and reducing the power of the big banks and Wall Street, were the top three actions that were most supported by Americans for ensuring prosperity for “the average American family”. Interventionism won three times over:

  • More investment spending beat getting borrowing under control by 61% to 44%…
  • Getting the richest to pay more tax beat allowing investors and innovators to keep most of the proceeds of their success by 41% to 15%…
  • And a more protectionist trade policy beat opening up markets in Africa by 46% to 14%.

The full results are here and the spending v deficit control result matched the result we published on 11th February that by 71% to 20%, most Americans would not accept “some reductions in the sickness, family, health or retirement benefits that the government provides to you and your family” in order to reduce the level of government borrowing. On that same day we noted that Donald Trump’s vow to protect entitlements was seen as nearly twice as popular on the “sensible” scale as his proposed wall with Mexico and temporary ban on Muslims entering America:


(4) Economic power seen as more important than military strength for America’s global status

The two, of course, are inseparable. A nation or empire can’t maintain military supremacy for long if it is economically weak. Our February survey on the sources of US power found, however, a clear belief that economic vitality and military power were much more important for “maintaining American strength in the world” than, for example, religious faith and strong families.

(5) Americans sceptical about Islam and evangelical Christianity

Not only did most Americans not see religious faith as a key underpinning of American strength, we also found that most Americans were generally sceptical about Islam and evangelical Christianity. In one of the first YouGov First Verdict panel results that we published, we learnt that 51% thought that Islam was either violent in character or, despite “largely” being “a religion of peace”, it contained teachings that encouraged extremism:


Evangelical Christianity didn’t receive high marks from our panelists either. 54% thought it pulled “many politicians to extreme positions on issues like abortion and homosexuality” and only a quarter thought that “national life is enhanced when politicians seek wisdom from God and the Bible”:


Other findings – for example some we identified over the Easter weekend – also seemed to suggest America was less religious than many Europeans might think. Asked to identify religious ideas that had “personal relevance” to themselves, only heaven (with 55%) won the endorsement of more than half of our panelists. And Americans clearly prefer the idea of an eternal future with the angels than infernal damnation with devils (or however people understand these possibilities for after-lives!). Only 39% choose “hell” as “significantly meaningful”.

(6) Urban schools and family breakdown blamed for racial inequality

Towards the end of February the First Verdict panelists identified the leading causes of one of America’s most stubborn social ills: racial inequality. Black community leaders at 51% were seen as much more culpable than “racism from White Americans” which only received a 29% agreement. Poor quality schools in largely black neighbourhoods (66%) and “the high level of family breakdown in black communities” (64%) were seen as the top explanations.

(7) Google, cable news and newspapers easily beat Twitter and Facebook as most important sources for news

“Which sources of news would you choose if you could only have three?” was the question we asked the YouGov panel in February and more conventional media outlets like Fox, CNN and other Cable news networks – as well as national newspapers – enjoyed comfortable leads over Facebook, Twitter and that trendy medium of podcasts. Access to a search engine like Google and Bing was the most important go-to-places-for-news, however. It’ll be interesting in a year or two to see the extent to which social media platforms can erode the lead of mainstream platforms.

(8) 46% say “no” to Syrian refugees, 45% say “yes”

The Syrian crisis has probably been the biggest international event during the period we’ve been polling and whether America should admit more refugees from the civil warring state has been the hottest political implication of it. We found that 46% of Americans wanted the door closed to “all refugees” given that some “might” be terrorists. Almost exactly the same number disagreed. 16% supported President Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrians and 29% answered that – given the total number of refugees is approximately four million – the US should find room for “many, many more”.

Asked, in March, to identify who had most responsibility for creating the Syrian catastrophe, only 19% blamed US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq for destabilising the region.

(9) 40% say Reagan greatest of last ten commanders-in-chief but Democratic presidents get most votes

For the Presidents Day annual holiday we asked our panel to identify their favourite president of the last ten and the clear winner was Ronald Reagan. But Reagan won nearly all of the votes that were cast for Republican commanders-in-chief. The total percentage for Democratic presidents equalled 54% and Republicans won just 42%.  Barack Obama beat both John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton in the Democratic “primary”;


If President Obama is disappointed at that finding he will be more pleased that if he was running in this year’s Democratic party primary we found that he’d be an easy winner over Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. On 11th February our panel survey found him winning by 57% to his former Secretary of State’s 20% and the democratic socialist senator’s 17%.

Jackie Kennedy, by the way, is America’s favourite First Lady of the last ten. She beat Nancy Reagan by 51% to 49% in the closest of votes.

(10) Achtung Deutschland! Atencion Espana! 53% of Americans see UK as best ally

And – one of my favourite findings – the UK easily won a vote on whether it was America’s best ally. 53% agreed. Although Canada was top nation when it came to country of choice for emigrants.

As well as rejecting EU-type arrangements for their own nation, and choosing Margaret Thatcher as their favourite international leader of recent decades, 59% of Americans also rejected President Obama’s suggestion that the UK should go to the “back of the queue” in trade talks if it voted to leave the EU.


Which only leaves me to say: GOD BLESS AMERICA!

For more about Portrait of America and the methodology behind First Verdict, click here.

For the complete Portrait of America catalog, click here.

Tim Montgomerie is a columnist for The Times