America’s clash of worldviews is clearly portrayed in a new survey by the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI).
It is no surprise that most adults believe the United States is not moving in the right direction. Since the 1980s, surveys evaluating such perceptions have typically found that most Americans believed the nation was “moving in the wrong direction” or was “on the wrong track.” Whether the president or the party in power has been Republican or Democrat, a majority of the public has not been satisfied with the way things were going since 2003!
The widespread concern with the state of the nation and its leadership is evident in the ACFI survey that found six out of ten adults (59%) describe themselves as “angry with the state of America” today. That is actually better than people’s state of mind during 2017, when the average monthly reaction to the national condition was two-thirds (67%) admitting to being angry.
The ACFI study also asked adults to indicate whether the nation is on the right track or wrong track today in terms of our politics, economy, morals, and culture. The aggregate responses to each of those inquiries suggests that people are satisfied that we’ve regained our way economically (52%) but also contend that we are moving down the wrong trail culturally (just 38% say we’re on the right track culturally), politically (34%) and morally (26%). In short, people believe we’ve gotten the economy in shape but other critical dimensions of our society are still a mess.
Point of View Matters
Not surprisingly, peoples’ ideological leanings affected their assessment of these four elements of U.S. society. Three out of four conservatives believe the nation is now on the right track economically – but less than half of all moderates (46%) and liberals (41%) concur. In fact, liberals are more likely to believe that during the Trump term of office the United States has lost ground in terms of economic growth, creating jobs, the cost of living, managing federal spending, tax policies, international trade policies, and reducing poverty.
For the first time in many years, most conservatives (57%) are confident the nation is on the right track politically. However, less than three out of ten moderates (29%) and liberals (22%) agree. Among the major political concerns harbored by those segments are alleged abuses or decline in the use of federal power, the performance of the judicial system, military and defense efforts, foreign policy, immigration reform, national unity, national pride, environmental policy, and federal government performance.
Large majorities of all three ideological groups agree that the U.S. is not on the right track either culturally or morally. The proportion of people from each ideological segment who reject the path currently pursued by the nation is surprisingly similar.
An evaluation of peoples’ points of view based upon their religious inclinations highlights the dramatic differences between such groups. The heart of the division across faith groups has to do with whether or not people embrace Christianity.
Christians – in all shapes and forms – were far more likely than people who do not associate with Christianity to believe that things are going in the right direction economically by a 58% to 38% split. Christians were also more likely than non-Christians to say things are going in the right direction politically – by a 39% to 24% difference – even though a majority of both groups feel the nation is politically off-track. Interestingly, the reactions of the two religious segments were very similar regarding the moral and cultural direction of the nation, with a large majority of each group believing the US is off-track in both dimensions.
The most unusual profile was revealed among SAGE Cons – the Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians. As described in the book, The Day Christians Changed America, SAGE Cons were a critical voting bloc in Donald Trump’s victory. Currently, they are the only faith segment for which a majority believes that the nation is on the right track both economically and politically. However, just one-third of that group says the U.S. is on the right path culturally, and even fewer (just one-quarter) say things are moving ahead well morally.
Skeptics emerged as the faith group that is most sour on the direction the nation is moving. Skeptics – a niche composed of atheists, agnostics, and people with no religious interest or activity – are the fastest-growing faith group in the U.S. They provided the lowest levels of support for the nation’s current path related to economics and politics, and registered the next-to-lowest scores regarding our cultural and moral paths.
Among other intriguing findings in the survey were:
- Americans who are aligned with faith groups other than Christianity were more similar to Christians in their outlook than they were to Skeptics.
- Adults who attend a Protestant church were somewhat more likely than those attending a Catholic church to view the US as on the right track politically and economically. Catholics were slightly more likely than Protestants to view the U.S. as pursuing the proper path morally and culturally.
Arguably the biggest division in perspective relates to the nation’s morality. While the percentages of people saying the U.S. is on the right track morally are very similar across faith groups, the reason for those responses are polar opposites.
For example, the lowest scores on the moral direction of the country came from Integrated Disciples (i.e., people who possess a biblical worldview) and Skeptics (i.e., people who do not believe the Bible is “holy literature” or the literal/inspired word of God). Although a large majority of both groups said the nation is on the wrong track morally, Integrated Disciples contend that it is because America is straying too far from biblical principles. Skeptics, in contrast, believe the nation is moving in the wrong direction morally because American society remains locked into outdated biblical morals.
One consequence of this finding is that the distance the nation must travel to bring people together on moral issues is greater than the distance required to generate unity in the other societal dimensions evaluated.
About the Research
The research described in this report is drawn from FullView™, a monthly nationwide survey with a randomly-selected sample of 1,000 adults, age 18 or older, whose demographic profile reflects that of the adult population. The online study on which this report is based was conducted by the American Culture & Faith Institute in the second week of January 2018.
Born again Christians are about 30% of the adult population. They are people who consider themselves to be Christian and believe that when they die they will go to Heaven only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Notional Christians are people who say they are Christian but do not meet the “born again” criteria. In other words, they do not believe that they will go to Heaven after they die solely due to having confessed their sins and asked Jesus Christ to be their savior. About 40% of U.S. adults are Notional Christians.
Other Faith is a category that includes anyone who is aligned with a faith community that is not Christian in nature. These 9% of U.S. adults include those who are associated with faiths such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Hinduism, and the like.
Skeptics are individuals who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, or who indicate that they do not believe in the existence of God or have no faith-related ties or interests. This segment has grown to incorporate roughly 21% of all adults.
SAGE Cons are a hybrid segment that combines faith and politics. The name stands for Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians. They are defined as adults who are registered to vote; they vote regularly; they consistently pay attention to news about government and politics; consider themselves to be Christian; are born again (see above definition); are deeply committed to pursuing their Christian faith; are conservative on social and economic issues; and are theologically conservative. They represent about 10% of the national adult population, representing approximately 20 million individuals.
About ACFI and Its’ Research
The American Culture & Faith Institute is a division of United in Purpose, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. The mission of United in Purpose is to educate, motivate and activate conservative Christians to engage in cultural transformation in ways that are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The organization does not support or promote individual political candidates or parties.
For access to many other studies conducted by ACFI, please visit the company website (www.culturefaith.com). To receive a free copy of the monthly research reports produced by ACFI, visit the website and register for the American Culture Review newsletter.