Americans on the whole are optimistic and expect their elected leaders to promise a better future. Americans are generally optimistic because they believe in personal responsibility and the rewards of work. Individuals are in charge of their fates and not the victims of impersonal forces.
In 2005, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 68 percent of the general population agreed that “Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard.” They also found that about 80 percent of Americans agree that “everyone has it in their own power to succeed.”
Some Americans, however, are not optimistic. In 2005, the Pew Research Center identified a group called Disadvantaged Democrats. This group is important to Democratic presidential candidates. Voters from this group made up 22 percent of John Kerry’s total vote in 2004.
Disadvantaged Democrats differ from most Americans on personal responsibility. Only 14 percent think that people can get ahead by working hard. Seventy‐nine percent say that hard work does not guarantee success, and 76 percent hold that view strongly.
The Pew researchers also note that only 44 percent of Disadvantaged Democrats say that everyone has the power to succeed, while 47 percent take the fatalistic view that success in life is determined by forces outside one’s own control. Not surprisingly, this group strongly supports more government spending on the poor. For these voters, wealth comes from government largesse rather than individual effort.
Disadvantaged Democrats may not have read John Rawls, but their attitudes are quintessentially liberal. The poor are victims of society, and government does justice by redistributing wealth from the rich (who don’t deserve it) to the poor (who do). Hope for a better future comes from the tax man, the social worker, and the guaranteed income.
Culturally Conservative Democrats do not buy this part of liberalism. Pew found that 83 percent of conservative Democrats believe that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work. About 68 percent of the general population shares that view.
The attitudes of Conservative Democrats on personal responsibility are the mirror image of those espoused by Disadvantaged Democrats, even though both groups have similar economic situations. Conservative Democrats are also no more likely than the average person to think government should increase welfare spending.
Conservative Democrats are also important to Barack Obama’s presidential effort. Pew reports such Democrats compose 15 percent of registered voters. Sixty‐five percent of Conservative Democrats voted for John Kerry.