Freedom of Thought

Is Amer⁠i⁠ca’s Decl⁠i⁠ne ⁠i⁠n Values Real? A Look Beh⁠i⁠nd ⁠t⁠he WSJ Poll

By: Gabriel Nadales / April 27, 2023

Gabriel Nadales

National Director, Our America

Freedom of Thought

April 27, 2023

Recently, the Wall Street Journal released a poll which showed a sharp decline in the importance that Americans see in several values which once defined the American tradition. 

From the years 2019 to 2023, Americans saw less importance in patriotism (36% drop), religion (24% drop), having children (9% drop), and community involvement (22% drop). Meanwhile, the importance Americans see in money rose by a couple of percentage points.

To many, this is an alarming poll, as it may suggest the turbulence of the last 4 years destroyed confidence in American values. But, there are important factors to consider which may make you reconsider the gloom and doom the poll appears to suggest.

  1. The sharp decline may not be real

    While it may appear that Americans are not as patriotic, nor do they care as much about religion or having children as they did in 1998, the recent sharp decline is misleading.

    Pollster Patrick Ruffini attributes this rapid decline to a change in the way the WSJ poll was conducted this year. The key distinction between the two polls is that the 2019 survey was done via phone interviews, while the 2023 poll was conducted online.

    Why does this matter? Because of something called social desirability bias. In other words, the 2019 respondents may have exaggerated their responses to appear more favorable to pollsters, while the 2023 respondents gave more honest answers because their responses were directly input into a computer.

    However, it is also important to note that since the previous polls were conducted via phone calls, those responses may not be as reliable. Those numbers likely overestimated how important these values are to people.

  2. Polls are always just a snapshot

    Every poll, as long as they are done correctly, reveal important truths about America and what Americans find important. However, any one poll is also merely a snapshot of the American public at any given point in time. To suggest that the Wall Street Journal poll is representative of America and its values would be to commit the end-point-fallacy – the practice of cherry-picking data within a time period to fit one narrative.

    It’s important to recognize that attitudes change over time, and while recent trends show a decline in the importance of issues such as patriotism, having children, and religion, this does not necessarily mean that the trend will continue to move in a downward direction.

  3. Just because some values aren’t popular, it doesn’t mean they aren’t important

    American sociologist Max Weber introduced the concept of ideal vs. real culture. Ideal culture represents the values that a society upholds or aspires to have, while real culture refers to the values that people actually hold.

    For instance, an ideal culture would have no lying or stealing, but in reality, such acts do occur. However, the existence of these actions does not make them acceptable – it merely implies that society is not meeting its own standards.

    In the context of the poll, the fact that some values are currently not popular does not mean they are not important. Hard work, for example, may currently be undervalued, but this does not diminish its objective significance. It simply highlights the need for society to reinforce the importance of hard work and encourage people to appreciate it once again.

  4. The poll shows why Our America is so important

    While the Wall Street Journal poll provides insight into the current state of real culture in America, it’s important to recognize that there is also an ideal culture that Americans aspire to.

    In fact, a 2021 survey commissioned by Our America revealed that 90.6% of Americans agreed with the notion that hard work, strong faith, good character and a commitment to one another are the essentials of a great nation. With this in mind, it is clear that Americans are more united than they may appear.

    Our America is committed to promoting these ideal cultural values, including patriotism, equal opportunity, freedom of speech, dignity, and respect. By working together, we can revitalize these values and help Americans rediscover the strengths that made our country great.

While the Wall Street Journal poll highlights areas in which we need to improve as a society, it also underscores the importance of promoting these values. With dedication and effort, we can build a better America that lives up to its ideal culture.