The Pew Research Center’s new study on Americans’ view of politics offers a sober reminder of just how negative our politics has become heading into the 2024 election. Regrettably, 65 percent of Americans state they always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics. Plus, many Americans say that the political process is dominated by wealthy, special interests who are deeply polarized and partisan. Our nation’s elected officials are viewed as self-serving and ineffective, and a growing share of the electorate dislikes both political parties. Sixty-three percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the presidential candidates who have emerged to date. Americans are neither hopeful nor excited about politics these days and our polarized politicians and parties play a big role in those sentiments.
Pew’s findings, coupled with others that highlight the diminishing levels of trust in the federal government, often miss that attitudes toward government ebb and flow. It is important for Americans to contextualize their feelings on government and look outside the nation so that we can more fully appreciate the many virtues we have being citizens and residents of this great nation. Seymour Martin Lipset would famously begin his courses by proclaiming that, “a person who knows only one country knows no countries.” Lipset believed that only by looking across different societies can one understand what is either distinctive or unique about one’s own. Lipset’s student, Francis Fukuyama, later noted that this sentiment was “particularly true for Americans, since the United States was such an outlier in comparison to virtually all other developed democracies.”
It is absolutely fair to be upset about the state of our union. However, many Americans are unaware of how unique and receptive the country is to change, growth, and socio-political evolution compared to others around the world. The United States may be imperfect, but the American Dream is very much alive. Hard work can result in upward mobility, and one’s safety and quality of life remain incredibly high compared to most of the world.
The recent Los Angeles Times “Survey of Immigrants,” the largest and most representative survey of immigrants living in the US, demonstrates that even with America’s problems, those who have lived and experienced life in other parts of the world powerfully recognize that life is better here than almost anywhere else. The survey found that regardless of origin or duration in the US, most immigrants came to this country seeking greater opportunities for themselves and their children. Those opportunities include better work, education, and more freedom to pursue their ambitions. Notably, smaller but still sizeable shares cite other factors such as joining family members or escaping unsafe or violent conditions.
Moving to the United States is not a panacea for immigrants. The survey responses reveal that even though most immigrants are employed, roughly half of all working immigrants have experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace, such as being given less pay or fewer opportunities for advancement. And even with high levels of employment, one-third of immigrants report problems affording basic needs like food, housing, and health care, and there is confusion and fear related to US immigration laws and policies. Life is not perfect for immigrants and this is no secret.
In spite of these difficulties, however, immigrants are thriving, and upward mobility has significantly improved for most immigrants to the United States. A strong majority of immigrants say their financial situation (78 percent), educational opportunities (79 percent), employment situation (75 percent), and overall safety (65 percent) are better as a result of moving to the US. Moreover, a large majority (77 percent) say their own standard of living is better than that of their parents, and most immigrants (60 percent) believe their children’s standard of living will be better than theirs is now. Notably, the immigrant standard of living figure is higher than the share of US-born adults who say the same (51 percent) according to a comparable and contemporaneous national sample of Americans surveyed at the same time. The data on immigrant attitudes is powerfully clear: Three in four immigrants proclaim that they would choose to come to the United States again if given the chance because they are well aware that the opportunities here for realizing the American Dream are so profound. Immigrants to our shores know what so many Americans often forget or lose sight of: how unique and privileged they are to have the freedoms and prospects present in this nation. While our politics may be polarized, our nation remains a beacon for so many. As we enter another election season, the nation would be well served to focus on civility and the true promise and opportunities that are present here try to hold far less on antipathy toward others and negativity about our collective future.