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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Despite Bush Unpopularity, Poll Finds Lower 'Alienation Index'

Most years since 1966, TheHarris Poll has asked Americans five questions to measure how alienatedthey feel from society and those with political and economic power. Using the replies to these five questions, Harris Interactive has calculated and published an Alienation Index. The more alienated people feel, the higher the index.

Harris Interactive has asked these questions at about the same time each year to limit any possible seasonal bias. This year's survey,conducted by telephone among a cross-section of 1,002 adults between Nov. 3 and 6, finds that the Alienation Index is virtually unchanged at 54 (out of a maximum of 100), compared to 55 last year.

Because Harris Interactive has asked these questions 35 times over the last 40 years, starting in 1966 under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, it is possible to compare the level of alienation under eight presidents.

After the Republican losses of the recent congressional elections, it may be surprising to report that despite the current unpopularity of President George W. Bush and the widening financial gulf between the very rich and the middle class, the level of alienation now is lower than it was in all eight years when Bill Clinton was in the White House. It is also lower today than during the four years of George H.W. Bush's term and every year except one of Ronald Reagan's administration.

It is clear that the level of alienation is not closely tied to thepopularity of incumbent presidents:

* Under George W. Bush, the Alienation Index has averaged 52 and has varied between 47 and 55;
* Under Bill Clinton, it averaged 62 (10 points higher than for President Bush) and varied between 55 and 67;
* Under George H.W. Bush, it averaged 62 and varied between 58 and 66;
* Under Ronald Reagan, it averaged 57 and varied between 54 and 62;
* Under Jimmy Carter, it averaged 55 (the questions were asked only twice while he was in the White House);
* Under Gerald Ford, the questions were asked only once in 1976 when the index stood at 57.

Surprisingly perhaps, given President Richard Nixon's ignominious resignation and the controversy surrounding Watergate and the Vietnam War, alienation was significantly lower during his tenure in the White House (averaging 47) than under any of his six successors. The best (i.e. lowest) measure during his presidency was 36 (reported toward the end of his first year in office in 1969).

Under Lyndon Johnson the numbers were even better, averaging 32 in theonly two years when the questions were asked and standing at 29 in 1966, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid.

The Current State of Alienation

In this new survey, the index was computed by averaging the percentages of adults who now agree with the five questions:

* 72 percent believe that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" (down from 75 percent in 2005).
* 54 percent believe that "most people with power try to take advantage of people like you" (compared to 60 percent in 2005).
* 53 percent believe that "the people running the country don't really care what happens to you" (unchanged from last year).
* 52 percent feel that "what you think doesn't count very much any more" (compared to 53 percent in 2005).
* 38 percent feel that "you're left out of things going on around you" (compared to 35 percent last year).

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