Families are integral to the health of American society, but society and its expectations for families are shifting at a pace previously unseen. Monitoring those transformations is essential for understanding what challenges families face, what participants can do to combat those hurdles and what trajectory the country is following, which is why the Deseret News is committed to its American Family Survey and seeking solutions through data-driven journalism.
Each year, the Deseret News teams up with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, a nonpartisan research arm of Brigham Young University, to canvass the country and decipher what Americans think about marriage, raising children and the effects of advancing technology on family life. Data for 2018 will come out Wednesday.
Most surveys capture political preferences and compare those to respondents’ level of education, income, race and gender. That paints a myopic picture of how Americans view the latest political happening or scandal.
Introducing the family element, however, is critical to discerning what real American life looks like for ordinary folks, and it’s largely different from the news most Americans hear.
The 2016 survey, for instance, found the predictable distinctions between liberals and conservatives and how they view traditional marriage structures. But when asked about family life, political differences melted. Liberals were just as likely as conservatives to eat dinner together as a family, do household chores together and go out on fun family outings.
This broader perspective pulls back the curtain on an America that’s far more united around core elements of daily life than pundits would have you think. That then gives further clarity in the poll to those places differences do exist — particularly between men and women.
Researchers acknowledge this phenomenon and the positive impact it can have on the country. While participating on a panel discussing the 2017 survey, Isabel Sawhill, a senior research fellow with the Brookings Institution, noted, “Politically we need to get beyond this bifurcated view. If we're going to find any common ground, we have to focus on values we can all support, and I think those values are family, work and education.”
The past year is marked with evidence of a growing negative partisanship — the idea that being against one party is more motivating than being for another party. President Donald Trump’s second year in office came to a head with his appointment and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, and the year culminated in an intense midterm election largely viewed as a referendum on the president.
But if past trends hold, American family life will have weathered these events, and ordinary citizens will still have much in common.4 comments on this story
In a note about the upcoming survey results, Boyd Matheson, opinion editor of the Deseret News, gives this reminder: “In this time of deep partisan identities and divisions, it can be easy to label someone as ‘right’ or ‘left,’ but our survey shows that personal experience and family life can greatly influence a person’s political beliefs. ...”
Getting beyond the labels to find the true identity of Americans will be the job ahead for anyone wishing to elevate the national dialogue and make sincere progress in the policy realm. We’re confident the heart of that identity lies not in any tribal association but within the walls of each American home.