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Reviewed by Steve Weinberg
Sunday, August 17, 2008

THE WAY WE'LL BE

The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream

By John Zogby

Random House. 235 pp. $26

Dismissing a crystal-ball book by a professional pollster would be easy. After all, generalizing about a diverse nation of 300 million people based on samples of just a few hundred seems ludicrous.

But pollster John Zogby's voice in The Way We'll Be is disarming. He anticipates skepticism and answers potential arguments with a combination of intelligent rebuttal, winning modesty and full disclosure about the limits of his methodology.

What he describes seems a plausible (though not guaranteed) scenario for the future of the United States, its politics, culture and economics. Even if Zogby's conclusions prove to be mistaken, the data he has collected offer plenty of fodder for discussion.

Drawing on surveys he conducted over a 20-year period, Zogby analyzed responses from all age and demographic groups. What he found was surprisingly optimistic: reason for uplift amid job layoffs, inadequate health care, rising gasoline prices, global warming and other morale-sapping problems. "My surveying shows that we are in the middle of a fundamental reorientation of the American character," he writes, "away from wanton consumption and toward a new global citizenry in an age of limited resources."

I like the sound of that new world. But I could not shake the thought that maybe Zogby is interpreting data to fit his personal hopes. Or maybe people tend to offer answers that sound politically correct and comport with what they believe pollsters want to hear.

Cued by Zogby's hopeful interpretation, I vowed to look for holes in his analysis, as well as flaws in the premises and phrasings of his questions. But as Zogby works through his data, sprinkling his pages with statistical tables, the vision in his crystal ball seems to hold.

He comes across as justifiably confident when writing that significant numbers of Americans "are less interested in luxury and extravagance than in comfort, convenience, costs, and the dictates of a growing global consciousness." For example, when asked what values were important in their consumer decisions, 51 percent of women responding mentioned the exploitation of child labor, 44 percent cited environmental friendliness, and 37 percent mentioned the human rights record of the producer. Armed with such replies, Zogby confidently states that "Americans want to live in a world with other people, not in a walled empire surrounded by enemies."

At the center of this optimistic future is a group he labels the "First Globals," consisting of the current 18- to 29-year-olds across the United States. This group, he finds, is "the most outward-looking and accepting generation in American history." Yes, many of them are self-absorbed and materialistic. But, Zogby says, the majority of First Globals are "far more likely than their elders to accept gays and lesbians. For all practical purposes, they're the first color-blind Americans and the first to bring a consistently global perspective to everything from foreign policy to environmental issues to the coffee they buy, the music they listen to and the clothes they wear."


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