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Americans' sense of alienation remains at record high

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Americans' sense of alienation remains at record high

Over 8 in 10 Americans believe that the people running the country don't really care what happens to them.

In the midst of the contentious presidential primary elections, polling firm Harris measured how alienated Americans feel.  The answer is: very.

In 2014, Harris’ Alienation Index hit an all-time high. This year’s reading matched that dubious benchmark. On the bright side (sort of), this is the first year since 2009 that the Alienation Index has not increased.

70% believe that most people in power try to take advantage of people like them.

What is The Alienation Index? 

Almost every year since 1966, The Harris Poll has measured how alienated Americans feel and then calculated an Alienation Index based on the results. The questions measure how much, or how little, people feel their interests are heard and addressed by those with power and influence. This year the Harris Poll Alienation Index saw an all-time high of 70 as it did in 2014, compared to 67 in 2013, 63 in 2011, 52 in 2010 and, for reference, 29 in 1966, its inaugural year.

The Index is based on replies to five questions, most of which show positive differences from two years ago.

  • 82% believe that the people running the country don't really care what happens to you, down from 85% in 2014 but still higher than 73% in 2011 and 50% in 2010;
  • 78% of all adults believe the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, compared to 81% in 2014, 80% in 2013, and 73% in 2011;
  • 70% believe that most people in power try to take advantage of people like them, compared to 71% in 2014, 69% the year before, and 63% in 2011;
  • 68% believe that what they think doesn't count very much anymore, which hasn't changed since 2014 and remains higher than 61% in 2013 and 66% in 2011; and,
  • 40% believe that they are left out of things going on around them, compared to 42% two years ago, 38% in 2013, and 41% in 2011.

So Who Feels Most Alienated? 

As President Obama comes to the end of his time in office, there is a shift in the feeling of alienation by political party affiliation. Adults who identify as Republican feel the most alienated, followed by Independents and then Democrats. In 2014, however, Democrats felt more isolated than Republicans, while Independents felt the most isolated of the three. Those with a college degree feel less isolated than those with some college or a high school education or less, a trend identified since at least 2013.

Furthermore, there seems to be a difference in alienation by age. Adults age 45-54 have an Alienation Index of 72 and adults age 55-64 have an index of 73, significantly higher than those 18-34 (69), 35-44 (70), and 65+ (67). There is no distinctive difference by gender.

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