EVENT TRANSCRIPT: US Populism Deconstructed, The On-the-ground Reality
DATE: 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm, June 24th 2019
VENUE: Committee Room 5, House of Commons, London, SW1A OAA
SPEAKER: Dr. Ryan Streeter
EVENT CHAIR: Adam Holloway MP
Adam Holloway MP: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am Adam Holloway, the chairman of the Conservative Home Affairs Committee. It’s a great pleasure to be working with Henry Jackson, who we love, but it’s an even greater pleasure to be joined by Dr. Streeter. As you’ll have seen from the bump, Dr. Streeter worked in the George W. Bush White House and also for Vice President Pence. I think populism is really the thing of our age right now; it’s treated as a somehow bad thing, but it’s also I think, as we’re about to hear, rather more nuanced. So, thank you very much Dr. Streeter.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Thank you, thank you for having me. Well, it’s a pleasure to be with all of you. I’m going to stand and talk if that’s ok, just because I do need to advance some slides. Of which, I will offer my apologies in advance because I come from a think tank where we like our bars and graphs and charts. There’s a number of bars and graphs and charts here which will be difficult for you to see, but I will do my best to explain what each of the lines means in advance. I work at the American Enterprise Institute; it’s one of Washington’s older and larger think tanks. I oversee domestic policy at the American Enterprise Institute, of which involves a lot of our polling work. People that do work on not just policy but also on American public opinion and on politics work in my division. We conducted a survey that incorporates questions that have not been asked in the United States for quite some time. I have an interest in these questions about what’s going on beneath the surface; not just political attitudes but also what’s going on throughout the country as a whole at a kind of more granular level. Unfortunately, a lot of our public polling work over the last 20 years has become overly focused on political attitudes. So, if you want to know what people, sliced up demographically, think about Donald Trump or think about Bernie Sanders or think about our politicians and all 23 plus of them running for the Democratic nomination in the country, you can find polls every day that break up America by political attitudes. Part of what we’re seeing of course in the United States and here in the UK is this resurgence of a popular kind of resentment against elites that have made decisions that people feel are disconnected from their interests. We are both experiencing this in different ways. Ours has a potential end date of 2020; in some ways the Trump phenomenon in America is almost more contained than what we are experiencing here, but there’s been a lot written about what our two countries have in common. So, I’m going to talk to you just about the United States. I don’t have polling data like this on Britain so I’ll have to leave that to one of your pollsters here to perhaps undertake. We’d be happy to share our questions with them if these things interest you. What we decided to do was to ask a long battery of questions to a nationally-representative sample of Americans. This was done by the University of Chicago, which does our general social survey. Academically it is considered amongst the best survey data in the United States, so from a data standpoint it is pretty unimpeachable. What we did was we took questions that certain social scientists, going back 20-25 years or so, have asked. The best known being Bob Putnam at Harvard, who wrote a book called Bowling Alone and some complementary articles that looked at how Americans are doing at the community level when it comes to things like social trust. What engenders social trust; i.e. are people participating in their communities in some way? That led to a whole raft of research in the United States looking at things under this banner of ‘social capital’, as people talk about it. This includes formally, i.e. whether people are involved in voluntary organisations of some kind, or informally, i.e. whether people are involved in their community in ways such as helping their neighbours and making their community a better place. So, we took a lot of the questions from that body of research, incorporated them into our survey, and then we asked a range of questions around other social phenomena right now that are kind of at the heart of what we consider to be our popular unrest in the country. So, we’ve called this survey, ‘the AEI survey on community and society’, and I’m going to talk to you a little bit today about findings that are related in an inner-related way to three prevailing narratives in America right now that are at the heart of our popular unrest. When you read articles, almost on a daily basis, about what’s going on in America, what’s wrong with America, these three narratives generally tend to be somewhere right on the front or lurking somewhere in the background.
So, the first one is that the American Dream is dead. We Americans have this obsession with this thing called the American Dream, even though we define it differently and it’s changed over time. Basically it’s this idea that anyone in America, if they work hard and play by the rules, can experience a better life than their parents had, upward mobility, and the inherent promise. But back in 2016 the American presidential candidate Donald Trump said, “the American Dream is dead”. Now, he promised to bring it back when he made America great again but Bernie Sanders, another candidate, also said, “for many, the American Dream has become a nightmare”. So, there’s dearth of opportunity, dearth of upward mobility, and dearth of the American Dream as a prevailing narrative. Secondly, almost daily there’s an article on the loneliness epidemic in America. We don’t have very good data on loneliness, so we decided to ask a bunch of questions about that in our survey. We’re hearing that there’s this sense of atomisation and isolation that is also at the heart of our popular unrest and that people who are living in forgotten places and feel lonelier are experiencing a rise in all kinds of things, from opioid abusage to deaths of despair to suicide. Thirdly, this headline that says, “Identity politics is tearing the US apart”; identity politics meaning this aspect of our politics which is beyond just differences of class but also differences of race, ethnicity, and ideological commitment to specific issues. Coalitions formed around these ideological issues to the point where, if someone is not on your side, they don’t actually just hold a different view but they’re actually your enemy. Probably one of the best platforms for seeing this display of animosity is Twitter. You see people buggering each other on Twitter all the time. People that normally would exhibit traits just like someone whose children are playing on the football patch next to your children whilst having a conversation with them on the sideline; you would never speak to them the way that you do on Twitter but for some reason, in these social media platforms, we tear each other apart and tend to characterise people not just as someone with a different view but as our enemy. So, we ask questions about all of these and other types of phenomena that are happening in America and a different picture sort of emerges. That’s what I want to talk to you about today and I’m going to share with you certain things that have emerged in our survey research that we think are evident in other surveys in bits and pieces. However, we don’t know of any survey that has asked all of these questions like we did at one time.
So, we found on this first point of the American Dream (refers to graph on screen), and you’re going to have a hard time seeing this, but this is America broken down by various demographic classifications: age, race, income. We asked people; “However you define the American Dream, are you living it, are you on your way to living it, or is it out of reach?” The dark blue lines that you can see here are the percentages of people who say that they are actually currently living the American Dream; they are living the Dream as they are standing. These are older people; the longer you live, the more likely it is that you’re going to say that you’ve achieved the Dream. Younger people, not as much. That’s very common with generations; when you ask people about the American Dream obviously when you’re young, you’re just getting started. But you can see in every demographic category; except for this one, this is people earning less than $30,000 in household income; in every other category somewhere between 16% and 19% of Americans say the Dream is out of reach. On the other hand, you have 8 out of 10 Americans basically saying that they’re either on their way to achieving it or they have achieved it. So, when you just ask Americans about the American Dream, a different response emerges than the daily declaration that the American Dream is dead. This is usually written by members of the media, (inaudible) who generally by most definitions would already be living the Dream, telling everyone else that the Dream is dead. But when you go talk to Americans and you just ask them, you get a different response. So, my case is these are the people we should be concerned about in our public policy response. This 1/5 or slightly less than 1/5 of Americans who believe that the Dream is out of reach for them are who we should be focused on. We also then asked people from a pull-down menu, “There are many different definitions of the American Dream, here’s about nine of them. Which of them do you think are essential? Which of these definitions are essential to the American Dream?” People could choose each one as, “Essential”, “Important but not Essential”, or, “Not important”. We found that 85% of Americans say having freedom of choice to live their lives, as they see fit, is essential to the American Dream. This notion of freedom is sort-of baked into our collective psyche as a country. Secondly and sort of surprising to some was that having a good family life ranks up there; 83% of Americans said that is essential to having the American Dream. More conventional understandings or descriptions of the American Dream, like owning your own home, having a better life than your parents, and having a successful career are all down around 1/2; about half of Americans think that. This is actually of how Americans conceive the American Dream. On the issue of identity politics, we didn’t ask people about that in particular but we asked them where they get a strong sense of community. Those are some questions that Bob Putnam was curious about. Where do you get a strong sense of community, where you feel like you’re in a community where people care about you? Or, where do you get some sense of community? (refers to graph on screen) The dark blue lines are the strong sense, the light blue is some sense, and you can assume that everyone else said they get no sense of community from these things. Not surprisingly, this top line is your friends; most people would say they have a strong sense of community with their friends. But you can see here with the city you live in; about one in four Americans to one in five get a strong sense of community just from the local place where they are. Almost one in three get a strong sense of community from their American identity, which was also surprising to some that one-third of Americans feel a sense of community with the nation. But these other two are localised: the city and neighbourhood where you live. When we ask about people that have your same political ideology, it’s actually about half the rate of what you see in terms of the town you live. Race and ethnicity are around the same percentage down here (refers to graph on screen). The point is that when you ask Americans, “Where do you get a strong sense of community”, essentially twice as many will say that they get a strong sense of community from their actual town where they live than their political ideology or race or ethnicity. So, this idea of identity politics; it may be accurately an aspect of American politics, that people are divided by ideology, but when it comes to where people feel like they belong? It’s not just in that hive of political abstraction, which if you read and you consume our news every day you would tend to think that’s how most Americans are identifying right now. So resentment politically, yes it’s a real thing but it doesn’t mean that Americans are resentful on the whole. Then these are some bars on loneliness (refers to graph on screen), and I know this is very hard to see so I’ll describe this, these are organised sort of by twos. We asked people a range of questions about whether or not they’re lonely, “Sometimes”, “Often”, or, “Never”. Then, we asked them a number of different questions about social isolation, such as, “Do you ever feel like you’re left out?”, “Do you feel like you don’t fit in with a group?”, and so on. Then later on in the survey, we asked people a series of belonging questions, such as, “Do you have a group of friends you can rely on in times of need?”, “Do you feel like you are part of a group that you identify with?”, “Are there people that you feel close to?”, and so on. We find that, right here (refers to graph on screen), about 1/3 of Americans say that they feel alone sometimes or often. But then when you ask them later, “Are there people you feel close to?”, almost half of Americans say that they have people that they’re close to. These two groups overlap. So, it’s possible for someone to say, “I feel lonely, but I also have friends that I feel close to”. That is an actual, possible situation to be in because a lot of Americans are. Same thing here (refers to graph on screen), “Do you feel left out”, you have about 43% of Americans say, “Sometimes, they feel left out”. But then when you ask people, “Do you feel like a part of a group of friends?”, about a third of Americans say, “Yes, feel that way often”. Another 41%, so almost three-quarters of Americans, say that sometimes or often they feel like they’re part of a group of friends. Even people who say that no one really knows them well will also say that there are people who understand them.
The point is that the picture that emerges is much more nuanced and complicated than our recording about this phenomenon, of which honestly I probably see an article that uses the term, ‘loneliness epidemic’, every single day. They generally point back to one survey from a year ago which actually had very similar data to ours when it comes to loneliness, but that didn’t report on these other questions of a sense of community and belonging. So none of this is to minimise the very reality of social isolation where it’s a problem. We are seeing a spike in suicides amongst white men in America in their fifties. Not African American men, not Hispanic men, but white men in their fifties and –
Adam Holloway MP: (Referring to audience member) At the end, at the end.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Yeah we’ll take –
First Question: This is just specific to this. I just wondered if you did this with examining levels of education or levels of income?
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Yes, income has an effect on loneliness but it trails off at about $75,000 US dollars of household income. After that, rises of income don’t seem to be correlated with lower levels of loneliness. So, it trails off at middle class, upper middle class level. Then the lower your level of education, the more lonely you are in this data. But again, it’s nuanced and it depends on where people live, if they live in a household where they’re married, and if they volunteer at an organisation or not. So even people with low levels of organisation who are engaged in their communities don’t really suffer from this problem. That’s a good question. So the picture that emerges is one that is more complicated than is often recorded, but it also suggests that there is a resilience underneath the surface of what we talk about in terms of our political recording that we’re just kind of missing in our narrative. Yet, it still seems like we’re at each other throats; I mean this is kind of the picture of our politics. It’s not actually a picture of our politics or yours, I think that’s the Ukrainian parliament. But that’s the way it feels most days in Washington, at least if you use filters like Twitter or whichever online media that you use to read. We do know that we are divided as a country; 72% of people using a popular dating app said that supporting President Trump was a relationship deal-breaker. We’ve started to see this interesting phenomenon where people are just really dividing themselves politically in ways that our survey data going back to the 1970s does not show. 52% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats in America would not start a conversation with the political opposite; wouldn’t even start a conversation with someone from the opposite political party. That didn’t use to be the case in America. Relatedly, more than one in four Americans now say in surveys that they would be troubled if their children were dating someone from the opposite political party. Again, when we asked this question back in the 1970s people just did not care. If your son or daughter came home with a Democrat or Republican it just really wouldn’t have mattered that much to you, but now it matters a great deal to people. So, this idea of political polarisation is a very real one. It’s being expressed because of the way we consume news, usually national news, through social media and it creates this impression that we are divided in every way. But we’re not divided in just every way. So what we decided to do with our survey data was to drill down a couple of different ways, and I’m just going to show you a couple of things that we found. This is by no means everything we found, but we think it’s interesting because some of this is unique and it’s new in the sense that this type of survey data has not been available in probably over 20 years. So, we divided our sample up into people that are socially active. We asked people how many friends they regularly keep in touch with, how they keep in touch with them, by texting, by getting together and so on. We created an index of sociability and then people that are not social, people that are much more alone. And then we looked at how they responded to questions about whether they were happy with their lives. “Are you happy with your life in general?”, “Do you feel like you belong to a community?”. So socially active people who are happy with their lives. Then we looked at socially active people who are not happy, who are lonely. It’s very possible to be the kind of person that’s in touch with other people, talking with other people, but actually still saying you feel alone, or that you feel unsatisfied with your life.
So, we looked at socially active happy people and socially active lonely people. And then we looked at where they get involved in their communities. We found that socially active happy people, about a quarter of them, volunteer in some faith-based religious context. Now as you know, in the United States we’re more religious people than you are in Britain and throughout Europe. One common aspect and outlet of people’s engagements in their communities through a house of worship or related organisation, social service organisation, someone who provides homeless services or what have you. So the very active happy people are engaged in their communities through religious involvement. And these are young people. We’re looking at just young adults; 18-35 year olds in this context because we’ve been hearing a lot about this generation being the most disaffected right now. Then, we looked at people who are socially active who are lonely and unhappy with their lives. And they’re disproportionately much more likely to be involved in politics. (laughter) This is volunteering in a policy organisation or a party. I don’t know if young people who are socially active and very lonely choose politics, or if politics just hollows out your soul. It may be one or the other, it’s got to be a mixture of both. We’re not sure about the direction. This is a very stark difference though; 7 times as many of them than the active happies, who are almost not involved in politics at all when it comes to volunteering. When we looked at all these different activities; have you asked your friends to support a candidate? Have you expressed support on social media for a candidate? Have you passed out political paraphernalia? Have you contributed money to a candidate and so on? The active, happy crowd are not super engaged politically; those are the ‘active happies’ as we call them in the office. And these are the ‘active lonelies’, i.e. the dark blue line. So, something about people that are lonely in America right now choosing politics as an expression for social change is kind of what we’re seeing in the data, particularly for younger people. These numbers even add a bit more for people that get older, we find that older people who are active and happy will also be involved in political volunteering more than the younger crowd, but still less than the people who are lonely. So that’s every activity that is political, except for one; voting. The active happy people actually go to the polls and vote at a higher rate. The active lonely people tell us what to do and how to think but apparently don’t turn out at the polls at the same rate. So that’s one thing that is worth looking at. (Referring to graph on screen) Here’s another graph that allows us to look at how people view the American Dream weighted against how socially connected or how lonely they are. We use a thing called the ‘UCLA loneliness index’, it’s kind of a standard for social scientists who are interested in social isolation. By the way people respond to all these questions about loneliness and belonging you can create an index to figure out where is the median, kind of, point of loneliness in America? How does the American distribution look? By this index, anything over 42 or 43 on the index means you’re lonely most of the time, so you want to be worried about that crowd. So we looked at Americans by how lonely they are and by things they value; in this case, the American Dream. The American Dream is, what you say the American Dream is to you expresses a certain kind of set of values, and you see that people who say that becoming wealthy, the people who say that is essential to the American Dream, they score 45 on the loneliness index. So people who have a more materialist understanding of the American Dream are much lonelier in America than the people who say it is not essential, the people who say becoming wealthy is not my idea of the American Dream, that number actually suggests they are involved and embedded in a pretty strong community. Having a successful career, a very traditional definition of the American Dream for people, not a whole lot of variation, the numbers there are just at or below where being lonely is. This one, to make valuable contributions to your community, being someone who really has a legacy in their community. You can see that people who say that’s not essential, much lonelier crowd, that might make some sense. Then, having freedom on how to choose your life, people who say that freedom is not essential are actually very lonely. 44 is a high number, and then 38 is a fairly low number. So the people who say that having freedom to live my life, if that’s essential to me, I’m not going to be as lonely, I’m not sure what’s doing that. Sometimes we think of a more libertarian minded person as someone that is a loner. But people who cherish freedom in America are actually embedded in community at the same time.
So, let us look at two generations in the United States that every demographer obsesses about: millennials and boomers. It depends where they fall on average when it comes to loneliness. Now, younger generations are always more lonely than older generations. IN the popular media there’s this impression that the loneliest people in America are old people. That is actually not true. When you are very, very, very old you start to see this divergence when people get up into their late 80s and 90s and you’ve lost your spouse, you start to see a spike in loneliness. But typically, through your 60s and 70s, and even into your 80s you generally are going to express a greater sense of satisfaction with your friendship circles than younger people; we’re always lonely. 18-24 is the loneliest times in our lives, when we’re leaving home, or going to university, or going into the workforce and trying to make our initial mark in the world, we find ourselves lonelier than usual. The average for millennials is 41. Just bumping up against what we consider to be a chronic loneliness, not quite, but almost.
So, we just decided from the literature to look at a few things that we think help people’s levels of loneliness drop and see if they tested out true in our research and our survey data, and they did. We started looking at this group of people by certain types of life choices. I mentioned religion earlier, so if you’re part of a religious congregation, if you are your loneliness level tracks down, and that’s consistent with Putnam’s research. Putnam wrote an entire book on this in America, the out sized impact of religious membership in America. And not only that, if you’re part of a religious congregation and you go to services regularly, then you see this drop even farther to here.
Then, if you’re civically involved, you volunteer in your community, not in a religious context but in some other way. You’re involved. It could be political volunteering or it could be volunteering in a homeless shelter. You see this drop even further, the effects here are pronounced, especially for millennials. Then if you get married those numbers drop even further. Those numbers drop from 42 to 35. On this scale that is a huge drop, so these social context effects do matter on whether people feel isolated or not. So you might say that all this religious stuff makes me feel uncomfortable, I’m not a religious person, is that just a weird thing about America? And I say no, let’s just look at one of these factors; let’s look at civic engagement which is open for everyone. When we look at that we find that people who are both socially active, I talked earlier about how we created an index to look at people who are socially active. Then we looked at how these people responded to questions about giving time every week to volunteer at an organisation, giving time to volunteer at a political organisation or what have you. We grouped up Americans into four different categories; people who are not sociable and not civic, people that are not social but civic, you do have those people, they don’t have very many friends but they’re the busy bodies in the neighbourhood that go around organising people and volunteering even if they don’t have friends. Then we have people that are social, they have lots of friends and they don’t talk with them regularly, but they just don’t volunteer, they don’t get involved with their communities. And you can see the steer step, the response to the question; how happy are you with your life these days? People that are civic and social are incredibly happy, almost 9 in 10 of that crowd, compared to just under 70% for the low social and low civic crowd. The reverse then of course then is also true. These are the low social and low civics, and this is the percentage of them who are saying that they are lonely a good bit of the time. Just under 60%. Major drop from just over 58% to 28% from the high social, high civic crowd. So when you have this group of people that are social and civic you have very low levels of recorded loneliness. And you also see patterns in their neighbourhood engagements, these are the same four groups I was just talking about. The dark blue lines are those who are social and civic, and these are neighbourhood interactions. These are not formal social capital like volunteering, which is what Putnam wrote about, but informal social capital. Have you ever tried to get your neighbours to help solve a neighbourhood problem? Do you help your neighbours out a few times a month or more? And we list a number of things people would do, you help collect their post for them, you walk their dog for them if they need help, you run errands for them if they need help, you talk with your neighbours a few times a week or more. Is your community an excellent place to live, or not? Do you have three or more friends? And you can see it sort of all these informal measures of social trust and community fabric, people who are socially engaged and civically engaged are in every category much higher than the others, or almost much higher in all of these cases.
So, this is about a third to 40% of Americans that are in this civic bucket, so Bob Putnam, lamented what he saw as a decline in civic engagement in America. Americans were not engaged in their communities the way they were a generation before. They weren’t volunteering, they weren’t showing up as members. What Putnam did by releasing that research, and like most scholars do, you invite counter-examples and criticisms of your work. And one of the things that Putnam was criticised for was that he didn’t take into account ways that people informally make their communities better, by organising neighbours, by being involved in something that may not be a formal volunteer setting, but might actually be a community action. And so we try to ask questions, as other scholars have done, on both of those to try and get a picture on how involved are Americans in their lives. What we’re finding in this data, and what I showed you earlier, is about a third, so I guess Putnam’s right, of majority of Americans are not civically minded in the sense that they’re not volunteering on a weekly basis. But between a third and about 40% of Americans are purely in contact with people in their communities. They say they get their sense of identity from their community, not from their politics. So what I have submitted to you is a very active and vibrant civic life in our country, in the United States, that’s not being reported on right now. I think, also, it might actually have some effect on our politics that we’re just not accounting for. So, the resentment levels that we assume the typical ‘Trump voter’ has may not actually be varying out in the way that political pundits think that they are. And actually I took, it’s not in these slides, but I actually did a separate analysis just of working class respondents in our survey, and we have a specific definition of the working class that I can give you, that if you’re interested in the methodology bit, that we worked out with our partner, and I went and looked just at that population and found that, yes, social trust levels are lower among working class Americans. They are distrustful of elites and people with higher levels of education, they are even distrustful of their neighbours on a whole. They are very bullish on the American economy right now; they actually believe that the American economy will be in better shape right now than their wealthier peers do. They believe their personal financial situation is going to get better. And if they’re working, and if they’re in a family household that’s stable, their levels of optimism on these other aspects and lower levels of loneliness are also apparent.
So, this isn’t just one block of people, there’s a sub-section of them. I mentioned men in their fifties in America without high levels of education. For whatever reason that demographic is in trouble in America right now. Rising drug use, rising suicide rates in ways that are completely understood. There’s a Trump voter in that, there’s a Trump voter story in that. But this monolithic group that our media likes to describe as the resentful Trump voter, it’s just not showing up in the survey data as quite as uniform as people say.
For those of you who like bricks and mortar a little bit more and don’t want to talk about loneliness and trust, and all these kind of soft issues, we did ask questions about community design in our survey, and found some interesting things here too. For those interested in town planning and interested in the physical ways our communities are laid out, we actually asked people to tell us how far they were, because it is all self-recorded. Can you walk? Or is it a short drive? Or using public transportation? Or a drive of medium length, 15-20 minutes, how far are you from key neighbourhood institutions and amenities, like schools, like supermarkets, like city parks, libraries, and we listed a whole range of amenities. We found that whether you’re in a big city, an urban setting, or in a suburban setting, or in a small town, people that live in very high amenity areas, that is they are in a short proximity to the kinds of things that make a community work, live in areas where neighbours are much more likely to help one another, that’s what the respondents are. If you live in a place where neighbours are willing to help one another if someone has a need. We found a greater level of neighbourliness, we also found that there’s a strong effect on trust. We also asked a two-fold question which is; do you believe most people can be trusted? Or do you believe one cannot be careful around people? What is your view on the world? Which of those two things? People that said that most people can be trusted, again, are much more likely to live in high amenity areas as opposed to moderate or low amenity areas. So we found an effect on trust, and then we also found an effect on social isolation. People who live in well-balanced, well-rounded communities, whether it’s a big city, suburbs, or small towns, are much less likely to say that they are feeling lonely.
We’ve basically found that you’ve got these three narratives in America; about the American Dream being dead, about the slowness epidemic tearing us apart, about identity politics tearing us apart. We found that those narratives are there for a reason. Americans do, there are percentages of Americans that are super-animated in their daily lives by identity politics, who believe that the American Dream is out of reach for them, and these are very real things and there are people who are socially isolated and alone. What I am suggesting is that that is actually a fairly small percentage of people in the country, in each of those buckets. Furthermore, each of those three things are related to each other in certain ways, which is what we have tried to test for. We have looked at how the American Dream and loneliness are related, we’ve looked at how this sense of community works for people at high and low levels of income and how they also feel about loneliness and social isolation. I think we’ve also learned a few things. First of all, politics about national issues does not equal happiness. When people spend their time obsessing about Trump, obsessing about national issues, obsessing about it via twitter, they are generally not expressing high levels of happiness. And people’s choice to use politics as a way for social engagement as one reflection of that. Secondly, we found that happiness is related to community more than money; just being engaged in a community generally generates a high level of purpose and belonging and happiness that we say we want our politics to do comes mostly from community sources, and certainly doesn’t come from money. And belonging really has more to do with community than politics. So political engagement right now in our country is heavily associated with people feeling socially isolated and unhappy with their lives. But when people feel they belong in a community it is almost always because they feel like they belong in some kind of real community, physically they’re part of a neighbourhood or town that they like, they have a family, they have an outside set of engagements, whether they are faith-based, whether they are civic, it’s very hard to find any evidence from our survey data or others that people are having a strong sense of community because of politics in our country right now. So community is both, as I was saying, where you live and who your friends are, more than your politics or your race. So, this identity politics narrative in the country where we’re really trying to group people by these rigid definitions of race, of class, and I would submit class as a bigger deal than as race or politics, but what your politics are, what your race is, and not just your political party, but what your views are on specific issues. Community still comes from where you live and who your friends are in a much more powerful way. And so, it’s not to say that political engagement is not a good thing and that you shouldn’t have defined views, but when it comes to where people have the strongest sense of community, that’s not where they are finding it. And we’ve also found that being social is not the same thing as being civic. I showed you those bars earlier that when people are civic it adds an accelerator, it adds a happiness accelerator to people’s lives. Being engaged in community, over and above just having lots of friends that you talk to, helps people to feel more connected to their communities, makes people feel less likely to say that they want to leave their community, they feel more attached to everything that’s going on around them. And then, lastly, being close to neighbourhood institutions just increases trust and neighbourliness. So, living in well balanced communities matter. So, when we think about things like social housing and when we think about things like parts of a country – whether it’s here or America – that have been in decline, we got to be thinking not just, not just about jobs and the economy although obviously without those things you can’t have much, uh, renewal in the community. But we ought to be thinking about all these other things that engender the kind of, trust, sense of purpose, and resources that we say that we want our development strategies to do. So this is, this is, some interesting findings to our survey, it’s not all that’s there, I can point you – if you’re interested in this kind of work – I can point you towards all the resources we have online about our survey. But with that, well what I’ll do is stop and take some questions and we can talk about anything that I’ve said or we can talk about related phenomena because I think I only mentioned Trump’s name twice in my talk but if we spend the rest of the time talking about him, I can, I can do that too. Yes.
Adam Holloway MP: Sorry, can I just say?
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Yes, please.
Adam Holloway MP: First of all, give Dr. Mendoza an opportunity to comment.
Dr. Alan Mendoza: Well, I, I think what, look this is very interesting as a survey point of view. My, my comment would be it’s interesting you’ve that you’ve come up with a conclusion essentially that, I mean, to, Yeah, sort of, precis the argument that populism is a busted flush. That you’ve put too much evidence on that. If that is the case, why is the, if you like, the Trump stroke Bannon brand – it, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a likable brand in that way – but why has it attracted so much attention why are people so willing to read into it things that are contravened by your survey.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: The Bannon-Trump, sort of, world view and the way it expresses itself in political rhetoric and in some cases in some policy proposals, not, not as many policy proposals as just pure rhetoric. I think it does energize a sub-section of the population that feels very quickly and strongly about these things that often gets called the ‘Trump voter’ when in fact it’s probably one in five Trump voters or a, or a smaller bit of them. For some reason, the President himself seems to enjoy fanning those flames and I think those are, those are the people who show up and are the loudest at political rallies. But we see this from an another colleague – not an E.I. colleague – but a colleague in, in, professionally in Washington named Emily Ethens whose is also a terrific pollster, did a survey on political attitudes last year which got some, some coverage where she, she basically identified five Trump voters and, and there’s this one Trump voter with low levels of education, disproportionately male, disproportionately white, um, they’re the ones who are most likely of all the Trump voters to say that America is a Christian nation in that we ought to conceive it that and they’re the least likely to actually go to Church, and it’s this, it’s this group of voter that’s highly secular in their lives and practice but they have this idea of America – which I would say – that most Conservatives who are polled is actually don’t hold. Since most of the rest of the Trump voters or Republicans would not say that America is a Christian nation, they have this kind of, this kind of revisionist view of the contrary and in being upset with outsiders who are coming into our country, being upset with the elite media that is undermining the values that we share and hold, even if they don’t share and hold these values in their private lives, but that the elite media are, they’re, they’re making us a more secular country. They’re using identity politics to tell our kids which restroom to use. They’re doing all these things and they’re, they’re, they’re aggravating us. That’s a very, that’s a very animated, loud sub-population but you, you do have a large number of people who walked into the ballot box and voted for Trump for some reason, major just for supreme court justices, maybe, maybe because they thought the, the economic alternative was better than the Hillary Clinton economy. They held their nose and voted their representative in this date and in different ways. And so, one of, one of the takeaways for this is there is a there is a message in, that I think would play well in our country about economic optimism that I think would actually appeal to working class voters that this President is not interested in and then, and because this President has done so much to, kind of, infect the air that everyone breathes the Democratic candidates are sort running against him now on these things rather than I think taking a careful study of what’s actually going on under the surface ‘cos I think that an agenda of optimism that was a real agenda, you know, not idealistic, I think, would work. So
Adam Holloway MP: Great, so what we’ll do now, we’ve got twelve minutes for questions at the end Lord Battles is going to make a few closing remarks. Can you please say who you are and any organisation you may represent? Please do make comments absolutely but no speeches. Sir.
Second Question: Edward Bernaise. I’m a member of this society, no other organisation. A slightly facetious question which is given your comments who are obsessed with politics and are being unhappy, what does that say about politicians?
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Hehe, Yeah that’s right. I don’t I mean –
Second Question: Forgive me.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Yeah, it’s a, it’s very –
Adam Holloway MP: Yes, I am, it’s a serious point but then we are very civically engaged and very socially engaged.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: No it’s very, it’s very, very true. I have the greatest admiration for people that run for office as we say so I… we know that members of Congress just continue to poll, you know, at levels right down with domestic abusers and the like but when you ask Americans – so those polling numbers are known very well – like Congress’s approval rating in America is about 30 percent or something like that. But when you ask Americans if they like their member of Congress then support goes, goes up very, very high. So the, the institution itself is held in very low regard right now but the, the individuals themselves are generally held to, in a different regard because again, people know their representative, if not personally, they actually understand why they’re representing them and they have some appreciation for that. So there’s something about being involved in just the issues of politics themselves that in all of that sort of entails right now which is sort of joining an ideological community that’s upset with an angry, with opposing views and hoping to find your happiness there is what people are not finding, they’re finding it quite the opposite right now.
Adam Holloway MP: Thank you. Sir?
Third Question: Euan Grant, former law enforcement intelligence analyst. Although I’ve worked a lot on European, Pan-European programmes, usually found it much easier to work with UK officials in that field. Maybe interesting. My question is how reliable would you regard the data and, secondly, what about regional variations? I partly say the reliability bit ‘cos there’s a very powerful article in City AM today by the government, the UK government, the head of statistical, independent statistical office where he berates insufficient sharing and examination between government departments.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: That’s a great question. We use the very same survey date that the university of Chicago uses to construct the General Social Survey so, it’s a, as far as survey data goes, it’s regarded as the most nationally representative data that, that we, we have or among the two or three surveys that a, that are high quality. There are always limitations with, with survey data. And our sample’s not large enough for us to drill them by region and make definitive claims about a specific region but it’s large enough that we can geo-code a, if you will, the data and look at census tracks around the country with very similar sort of demographics and be able to draw, draw conclusions about what people living in lower income, uh, suburbs have in common with people that live in small town, or rural, rural America, so the, the data is always going to have limitations but we’re very confident that this data is, is, is about as solid as we have in the United States.
Adam Holloway MP: Sir.
Fourth Question: Hi, my name is Hugh Edwards. Charted accountant. I always thought one of Trump’s great strengths is his ability to communicate with large numbers of lower-end … and one of his supporters said ‘Trump says all the things that I’m thinking’ and do you think he, his opponents in the Democratic Party just can’t do this? You know, they have no way of, knowing, they don’t seem to want to know the average … they think, there is this idea. Mm hmm. In, on the left that if you give the voters enough facts and figures and arguments, everything is going to be alright and there’s, it’s what Hillary Clinton tried, was trying in 2016, and it failed completely. I always remember Ted Bates in the, West Virginia, and Trump told the voters that in the coal mines ‘I will bring the..’ –
Adam Holloway MP: Sir. Forgive me. No speeches. Can we have a question or comment, thank you.
Fifth Question: – why do you think the Left is so bad at empathy – if you like – knowing what the voters are thinking.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: I think that in our context right now in the United States the, the way our parties have been evolving and the way that the financing for those parties work has really pulled the Democratic Party very far to the, to the Left so that the primary season is about satisfying, essentially the guardians of Democratic orthodoxy at this time. So there’s been a lot of coverage in the media about how the Republican Party’s moved more to the Right, and, uh, that’s true, in a number of cases but the Democratic Party has really swung to the Left and so you’re seeing that now in this primary race where, they’re essentially campaigning not for middle American, average voters in the heart of the country but really for postal, elite views of the world. That’s what they’re fighting about right now which goes right over the heads of people. Which is why you see Joe Biden, on the one hand, trying to adopt views he hadn’t adopted before but still using his regular Joeish schtick because he knows that after that primary season, if he can weather it, there’s a large group of people who are very sceptical of Elizabeth Warren for instance, who would support the more moderate vision of policy that he would have. But, uh, the way the parties have swung really drive this, this season right now.
Adam Holloway MP: Great. Two more questions. Sir.
Sixth Question: Mike Cockerel. I’m an independent strategic thinker. It seems to me that uh, there’s a big horde sort of going over there and, sort of, politics is going over there. Which one is going in, sort of, the wrong way. Should the people move towards where the politics is? Or are the people may be doing fine and what’s happening is that politics should move towards, more towards the people?
Dr. Ryan Streeter: That’s a great question. It seems, it seems to me we need politics to move closer to where people are. And I think Trump’s done that in a couple of ways. He has certainly done that by – all the stuff he says about fake news and all of that stuff. The reason it appeals to average Americans, and these would not be just resentful people, this would be middle class people that live in the middle of the country who just feel like the media is run by people who really just don’t see the world as they see it. And so he’s connected that way but then he’s chosen, for instance, to focus on immigration and the border, because that lights up a certain part of his base. But he doesn’t have to do that, that’s what he has chosen to do and that, those are, those are policies that are personally – I disagree with him on. I think he’s made mistakes but I think that, it would be possible for a different candidate to move the politics, let’s say, of the Republican Party, to where people’s sort of economic interests really is, sort of like, what we were finding in the date and I think the same is true of Democrats too. So, I do think that politics need to move where the people are. I just think that our politicians and the people that advise them don’t actually know where the people are.
Adam Holloway MP: Great. Before we come to a summary. Sir?
Seventh Question: John Waith from the Financial Times. You’ve been at least implicitly critical of Trump, uh, in the US. Two things: one, do you think that’s mainly, criticism, that’s mainly due to the liberal media or to the people, between the liberal and conservative media. And secondly, do you think that what you’re saying about the media, that they’re message is seriously distorted, is the reality at the moment?
Dr. Ryan Streeter: I think there certainly has been quite a bit of ideological, kind of, homogenization of the media in America. They typically, generally tend to have similar political views. You have the big outlier known as Fox News which has reacted in its other way. But I think part of what the problem is, the media that people consume whether it’s what they’re reading online, on official newspapers and outlets like your own or other, kind of, smaller scale, kind of, fringe things or whether it’s the main line cable news that they consume. Obsession with national news and the debates that we’re having is sort of what has taken over that. So people are, you know, and you can just see this in the regular news cycle when, when you come to America. One of the reasons I love coming back here and watching the BBC is at least watching someone read the news from around the world is refreshing ‘cos we don’t have that in America anymore. You can’t watch cable news and, and hear about what’s going on with the Syrian Refugee Crisis anymore. It’s just, they just don’t cover it.
Adam Holloway MP: So…
Dr. Ryan Streeter: They only cover that.
Adam Holloway MP: Thank you very much, indeed. Dr Mendoza, in terms of obsession with a particular issue.
Dr. Alan Mendoza: Well, I want to just throw you something in. One of the stats you showed was dating someone from another side of the political debate. I don’t know if you saw in the Economist over the weekend there was a stat about Remain and Leave voters, about ‘Would you mind if your child would be dating one or the other?’. Very interestingly, the Leave voters only 9 percent cared if it was a Remainer, Remainer voters were about a third. So it goes exactly like what you’ve said there which is, ironically, the side that should be more open, i.e. the Left or Remain is much more closed when it comes to that.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Closure. On the Left it’s a big deal.
Adam Holloway MP: Great. Before any of the House of Lords. James Bethel ran probably one of our premier public affairs companies. Lord Bethel?
Eighth Question (Lord Bethel): Oh thank you very much that. I wanted to say thanks to the Henry Jackson Society for bringing this about. Alan and his team are very well known for the work they’ve done in the security area and understanding what the challenge was from polarisation, extremism and I’m very conscious of the work you’ve done against the far-right. But we’re on a slightly different chapter now. It’s not so much about identifying threat. It’s more about trying to figure out ‘How do we find out our way out of this difficult period in our history’ and I feel that this contribution from Ryan is unbelievably valuable and Ryan, it’s very good to see you after many years. Welcome back.
Dr. Ryan Streeter: Likewise.
Eighth Question (Lord Bethel): to the UK, I know you love it here. I hope you’ll come many times again. This piece of research, I think, is a really helpful road map that demonstrates that actually for all of the accounts of the polarization of society, we do need to remind ourselves actually people rub along very well together and there’s a huge amount that we have, that we all have, in common and we should celebrate that. But also that Government and politicians need to think about an agenda where we do try to reinforce these two very important principles of civic engagement and social action. That clearly is a very important route to try to bring people back together again. To try to make people feel more vested in society. For overcoming the challenge of identity politics and schisms that we do have. It’s hard work, it’s going to be. It’s less sexy and less interesting than the security work that the Henry Jackson Society is famous for. But I think this is, generally, where the work is going to be for the next few years and I really thank them all for bringing this fascinating work to us. Thank you.
Adam Holloway MP: Hear, hear. So, can I thank the Henry Jackson Society and all of you for coming and particularly, Dr. Streeter and leaving with a final anecdote. Shortly after 9/11 I was sitting in a car with an extremely right-wing friend of mine in Georgetown, in Washington D.C. and his little girl was in the back of the car in the bay seat eating an ice cream and I, you know, you try and make conversations with children and I said ‘So darling, do you know who Osama bin Laden is?’ and she said ‘Well, not really.’ so I said, ‘Well, when you say not really that must mean you know something about him’. ‘Well, no’. And I said, ‘Well, what is it? What do you know about him?’. And she said, ‘Well, he’s kind of like a Democrat’. That’s polarisation.