Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fifty years

During the 1930s and 1940s, Fortune magazine sponsored a series of surveys conducted by the Roper Organization.  It was probably the most important early series after the Gallup Poll.  Unfortunately it stopped in 1949--the Roper Organization continued, but most of the questions were never repeated.  However, in 1990 Fortune sponsored a survey that replicated some questions from 1939 and 1940.  

"Do you think your son's or daughters opportunities to get ahead will be better than, or not as good as those you have" [or "If you had children," etc.]

                   1939  1990     
Better              61%   68%                 
Not as good         14%   20%                
Same                10%    6%                
Not comparable       2%    2%                   
DK                  12%    4% 

Do you think the years ahead seem to hold, for you personally, a good chance for advancement or the probability of no improvement over your present situation?

Advancement         56%   64%
No improvement      33%   30%
DK                  10%    6%

Do you believe that the great age of economic expansion and opportunity in the US is over or that American industry can create comparable expansion and opportunity in the future?

Over                13%    16%
Comparable          72%    78%
DK                  15%     6%

Putting them together, optimism about the future remained about the same.                 

Do you think your opportunities to succeed are better than or not as good as your father had?

Better              61%    79%   
Not as good         20%    13%
Same                12%     6%
Not comparable       3%     1%
DK                   5%     1%

People in 1990 were more likely to see improvement, although at both times most people were favorable.

Turning to economics,

Do you believe that a high tariff to keep out foreign goods in competition with American goods is a good policy or a bad policy?

Good              59%      47%
Bad               14%      37%
Depends           11%       9%
DK                15%       7%

A substantial shift towards support for free trade, although tariffs were still more popular.

Do you think the interest of employees and employers are, by their very nature opposed or are they basically the same?

Opposed            24%     43%
Same               56%     24%
DK                 19%     14%

A big change, and one that is the opposite to a what is sometimes said

Suppose it became necessary to increase taxes, which one or two of these methods would you most prefer?

Extend income tax 17%       x
Raise income tax  14%       5%
Corporate profits 21%      41%
Sin & luxury      41%      47%
Federal sales tax 14%      17%
DK                12%       7%

"Extend" means making more people liable to pay income tax (they had a fairly long description, which I won't quote).  That option wasn't offered in 1990, presumably because the share of people who had to pay income tax had increased a lot.  The big change was an increase in the share who favored increasing taxes on corporate profits.  Like the previous question, it suggests an increase in anti-business sentiment.  

It's interesting to think that 1990 was 25 years ago.  I hope Fortune will do a 75th anniversary follow-up.  

[Data from iPOLL, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research] 

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