Poll on perceptions of threats to American culture

Analysis by PRRI and The Atlantic, based on surveys conducted before and after the 2016 election, reveals the degree to which white working-class Americans feel threatened culturally. Social scientist Robert Putnam reported as much in 2006. Cultural diversity is intimately related to immigrant populations, which spread out across the country after about 1990.

Survey findings:

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of white working-class Americans believe American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s.

Nearly half (48%) of white working-class Americans say, “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

Nearly seven in ten (68%) white working-class Americans believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence. In contrast, fewer than half (44%) of white college-educated Americans express this view.

Nearly seven in ten (68%) white working-class Americans—along with a majority (55%) of the public overall—believe the U.S. is in danger of losing its culture and identity.

More than six in ten (62%) white working-class Americans believe the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American culture, while fewer than one-third (30%) disagree. The views of white college-educated Americans are nearly reversed, with a majority (54%) expressing the view that immigrants strengthen the country.

Note on Robert Putnam’s survey on diversity: Around the year 2000, Robert Putnam studied the social impact of ethnic diversity. The results shocked him so much that he withheld reporting them for years. Fighting his personal pro-immigrant leanings, he concluded, “immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital.” He describes social capital as a collective capacity to spark civic participation and trust, keys to building democracy. In his 2006 lecture, “E Pluribus Unum,” Putnam warned, “The more ethnically diverse a residential context is, the less we trust …” He said the more racially diverse a community, the less trust exists among neighbors. Even trust within groups is lower in more diverse settings.

Where are they?

In no region do white working-class Americans comprise a larger proportion of the population than in the Midwest, where they account for more than four in ten (43%) Americans. Roughly three in ten Americans living in the Northeast (30%) and South (31%) are white working class, while only roughly one-quarter (26%) of those living in the West are white working class.

White working-class Americans also make up a disproportionate number of those living in rural areas. Just over half (51%) of Americans living in rural areas are white working class, compared to about one in five (22%) of those living in America’s urban areas.

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