Politics & Policy

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Taking a look at ourselves, courtesy of polls.

Daniel Yankelovich is one of the grand old men of polling. For the past 20 years he has been associated with DYG, a market-research company that doesn’t just track trends but analyzes them. Each year he and his DYG partner Madelyn Hochstein hold a conference for clients, discussing current trends. This year Yankelovich also explained to the audience, mainly young researchers, what he thinks makes a trend especially significant.

#ad#Yankelovich believes that Americans tend, as he puts it, to “lurch and learn.” The example he uses to explain this is how our society “lurched” from being uptight, conformist, and self-sacrificing in the 1950s and ‘60s to the far more free-wheeling hedonistic self-centeredness of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Then, he maintains, we began to “learn” and pull back toward a more tempered middle view.

He also thinks what makes a trend super important is what he calls “the power of convergence” when a variety of factors come together. It creates a “perfect storm” that can lead to an important and sometimes sudden attitude shift. Republicans in Congress, take note.

What are some of today’s hot trends? According to Hochstein, they include the “child centeredness” of our society. That’s been going on since the 1990s, she believes but it has “morphed” into different manifestations over the past 15 years. It started with our increased concern with keeping kids safe. (Think today’s elaborate car seats for kids and the trashing pop star Britney Spears has taken for not putting her baby in his well-padded seat.) We then moved, according to Hochstein, from protecting kids to pampering them with expensive toys and clothes and now to rigorously preparing them for a competitive future. I confess, I confess: I bought a Baby Einstein video for my obviously brilliant granddaughter when she was about eleven months old.

Another trend is what DYG calls “Embracing choice.” Yes, the American consumer has demanded more and more choices in products over the years. Now, it seems, we have so many that we want products that guide us through all those myriad of choices. The power has shifted from those who provide abundance to those who help us navigate through it. That’s why if Wal-Mart–lots of choices, low cost–was the “star” company of the last decade. Google the navigator, is obviously today’s superstar.

A trend that really interested the conference’s young audience was “The Increasing Power of Women.” That, of course, has been going on since the early 1980s. But the differences between focus groups with twentysomething women and men, Hochstein says, are enormous.

“The young women are full of confidence. They really think they are extraordinary, and they are not a bit shy telling you that they are,”she said. “They feel they are capable of running things–and aren’t quite sure why their bosses don’t recognize that. While the young men are very different.” I think the word she used about them was “lost.” That got more attention than anything else from the young men in the audience who seemed to think they were not so much “lost” but realistic. According to the guys, it’s the young women who they date and with whom they compete in the office who need the reality check.

Yankelovich and Hochstein say a couple of other recent findings are somewhat baffling, and are similar to what other pollsters are also seeing. Nowadays people complain, even in our 24/7 news cycles, that they are ill-informed. They also say that they feel voiceless and that today’s leaders are not listening to them. Yet at the same time, they are the most polled people ever, and our politicians are more sensitive than ever to the results of opinion polls. Maybe what they really want is less polling and more leadership.

They also noted that in current polls over 70 percent of people say the country is going in the wrong direction. Rarely have they seen such negativity and gloom. And yet at the same time, in almost equal numbers, people are satisfied with their personal lives and optimistic about their own futures. It is a strange and confusing disconnect as if Americans do not associate themselves with the fate of their country. Has the political become less personal than ever before? It is that a new and most disturbing trend of all?

— Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.

Myrna Blyth — Myrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...

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