Dems Should Capitalize on At-Risk 'American Dream,' Pollster Says

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Americans are more anxious about their economic security and are calling for government action, according to a Democratic pollster who says that situation bodes well for the Democratic Party.

Speaking at a briefing sponsored by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., pollster Celinda Lake said Americans are "angry and anxious" about their economic security and few have achieved the "American dream."

According to a recent nationwide survey of 800 non-supervisory workers, Lake said the "cornerstones of the American dream" in the view of those surveyed are wages that support a family, affordable quality healthcare, opportunities for their children, respect for hard work, and retirement security.

"Workers are increasingly pessimistic about achieving the American dream," she said. "Only 18 percent of Americans believe they have achieved the American dream."

According to Lake's results, 74 percent say the American dream is harder to attain than before, and only 15 percent of respondents said they believe the next generation will be better off economically.

"This is the first time we've had both a majority of college educated and a majority of non-college educated Americans believing that their children would not be better off," she said, adding that this sentiment has been common among blue-collar workers for some time.

Lake said Americans are concerned about "healthcare, retirement, personal debt, and paying the bills" with 94 percent saying hard work should lead to economic security. These issues had long been part of the "progressive" agenda, but "this is something that often progressives don't get right."

"People are optimistic and anxious at the same time," she said, but added that the Democratic Party has been largely pessimistic about economic solutions.

If Democrats become more optimistic in their message than they traditionally have been, Lake said, they can gain more support because their agenda matches Americans' concerns.

"The agenda is totally on the progressive side. There is a very strong agenda ... and very strong intensity to it," she said.

Lake also noted that 58 percent of those surveyed thought the American dream could be restored through government and community action.

But Elisabeth Jacobs, a research fellow at the Brookings Institution also taking part in the discussion, challenged the view that Americans want more government involvement.

"There is incredible distrust in government's ability to provide [economic] solutions," she said. "There is incredible distrust in the government's ability to do anything right."

Citing other survey figures, Jacobs said 83 percent of Americans believe that if the federal government received additional money it would more likely waste the money than spend it well.

"This suggests to me a major problem for Democrats who are trying to convince the public that their problems have public solutions," she said.

The Bush administration maintains that the economy is strong.

"Our strong labor market is the foundation of our positive outlook for the U.S. economy," Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department, Phillip Swage, said last week.

He said recent data provided "further confirmation that the U.S. economy is fundamentally healthy. We have steady job growth, a low unemployment rate and steady wage growth."

Swage also noted that real after-tax income per person has risen by 10 percent - an extra $2,965 per person - since 2001.

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