The pundits are busy sifting the election litter for clues about what Americans are thinking. (They voted for compromise! They voted to raise taxes on the rich! They rejected old white men! They’ve expressed their inner greed! And so on.) It might help to step back, seek some perspective, and review what we actually know about what Americans think about important issues and what direction their thinking has taken in recent decades.
Since 1972, the General Social Survey (which I have often drawn upon for this blog) has been the premier, high-quality, long-run compilation of what Americans have to say about their public and their personal concerns. A valuable new book, Social Trends in American Life, edited by Harvard sociologist Peter Marsden, explores the trends found in the GSS on a dozen different topics. In the last 40 years, Americans have changed dramatically in some regards and, surprisingly, not changed in other regards. Here is a sample of what the contributors found.