Most Americans Believe U.S. Changed For Worse Since 1950s, Poll Finds

The majority of Americans believe that American culture and life have declined since the 1950s. A new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found a shift in opinion from 2020 when the majority thought it had improved. This is despite Republicans' negative view of the country.

Romney supporter wearing a "Make America Great Again” hat at the Mitt Romney party in Orem (Utah) on June... [+] 26, 2018. Getty Images

The Key Facts

Survey of 2,508 adults in the United States was conducted between September 16 and 29. 52% believe that things have gotten worse over the past 50 years, while 47% think it has improved. PRRI noted that this is a significant shift since the last time the question was asked in 2020. 55% of respondents said things have improved, while 44% said they are worse. This change was primarily driven by Republicans. Only 29% believe things have improved versus 46% in 2020. Democrats were mostly unchanged (63% believed things are better now than 62% in 2020). Independents saw a 57% improvement in 2020 compared to 48% in 2018. The Republicans' view of the country is largely influenced by which party is in power. PRRI noted that the GOP's outlook is back to 2016 when President Barack Obama was elected, and that only 31% believe the country has changed for the better. Democrats consistently state that the country has improved since 2013, even when Donald Trump was president. Independents' views have steadily risen between 2016 and 2020, before falling this year. Republicans nostalgia is a reflection of a wider pushback by many in the party towards America's increasing diversity. Only 30% of GOP respondents want America to include people from all parts of the globe (compared to 49% overall), and only 17% want America to have people with different religious backgrounds. 40% of Republicans said that they prefer America to be predominantly Christian.

Big Number

80%. This is the percentage of Republican respondents that agreed with the statement "Today, America is in danger losing its culture and identity" compared to 33% for Democrats. Separately, 56 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that they sometimes feel like a stranger in their own country due to how much has changed.

Important Quote

Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, said that there is a certain wistfulness and nostalgia about the poll results. It is an ethnoreligious identity. People are looking back at a white Protestant America, specifically a white Christian America.


PRRI also tracked beliefs that were aligned with the QAnon conspiracy theory. It found that approximately 17% believed it. The most striking finding was that 17% of respondents agreed with the statement. This is because true patriots, including 30% of Republicans, may need to resort to violence to save their country.

Important Background

Republicans are often nostalgic about the past. In 2016, a PRRI poll found that 72% of Trump voters thought the country had changed, compared to 51% overall. Jones also noted that the findings of the 2016 race were a referendum on different visions of America's destiny. The majority of Republicans have been historically white. PRRI's poll matches other surveys which show a similar hesitation among Republicans to embrace diversity when compared to Democrats.

Continue reading

Competing Visions of America: A Evolving Identity, or a Culture Under Attack? Results from the 2021 American Values survey (PRRI).

Washington Post: How Americans voted for Trump because of their nostalgia for white Christian America (Washington Post).

Trump's Graying Army (The Atlantic).