Alienation in America

It’s the Dog That Isn’t Barking (Yet)

It sounds like a foolproof formula for massive alienation: a lousy economy, plus the prospect of a war that everyone (pro or con) dreads. But the most recent comprehensive look at the topic, the Harris Poll’s annual Alienation Index, found little evidence of such a trend. The study, released at the start of each year, takes account of attitudes toward “people with power,” the government and society in general. Most components of the index showed greater alienation than the prior year, when post-9/11 solidarity was at full tide. Still, the new poll yielded the second-lowest level of alienation in 25 years. The only big jump was on the question of whether “most people with power try to take advantage of people like yourself,” with 61 percent of respondents saying this is so, vs. 48 percent the year before. One of the more gut-level indices—the one summarized in the chart below—actually fell. And there was just a slight increase (to 72 percent from 69 percent) in the number of respondents saying “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Of course, the poor likely are getting poorer in this weak economy. For purposes of social cohesion, though, it matters more that many of the rich have been getting less rich.