Are American values changing?

Founding Director, Pew Research Center
Americans are becoming more socially liberal and less trusting of government, Kohut says.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Are American values changing?

Andrew Kohut: Well I think in the short term what we’ve seen is values are drifting toward the Democratic direction. There’s more concern about the social safety net. There is more concern about income inequality. There’s less of a view that . . . of a strong national security posture; an aggressive national security posture is the best way to protect the country. All of those things are good for Democrats. The political landscape in 2008 in terms of values is looking good for the United States . . . for the . . . for the Democrats rather, and it represents a turnaround from the trends that we saw in the 1990s. We’ve been measuring . . . We have a basic set of political measures . . . political values that started in ’87 . . . 20 years. Between ’87 and ’94 they went in a more conservative direction. Now they gradually began to drift back. If you look at the status, it’s a testimony to the notion that Arthur Schlesinger had about cycles of history. Americans moderate their views. They don’t settle on one ideological point of view. In terms of broader long-term values, I think the most important thing to recognize is that the American public is becoming more socially liberal over time even though there are arguments – ferocious arguments about some of these issues. There’s more acceptance of homosexuality than there was even though there’s not acceptance of gay marriage. The younger generations of people have different views about the role of women. And progressive social latitudes are associated with new . . . the younger generations of people. And that will affect . . . is affecting American values. On the other hand, in terms of government, there’s not a great deal of faith in government. And even though the public wants government to do more about . . . to help poor people, it’s very leery and suspicious of how well government operates. So you have almost . . . You can almost say that over the long term, the combination of suspicion of government and more socially . . . social liberal ideas almost calls out for a more libertarian trend. But you know we’re talking about small differences. Social values don’t change in major ways. It’s a pretty . . . I mean you’re talking about values. You’re not talking about things that change every six weeks. You’re talking about things that change slowly.

Recorded on: 9/14/07