A majority of Donald Trump supporters think everything has been terrible since the 1950s

A research poll shows just how many Americans yearn for a return to the idealized, white-bread decade

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 25, 2016 2:43PM (EDT)

A Donald Trump supporter in Richmond, Virginia, June 10, 2016.    (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
A Donald Trump supporter in Richmond, Virginia, June 10, 2016. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

If you ever had the sneaking suspicion that “Make America Great Again” was code for “Turn America’s clock back to the 1950s,” a new poll suggests you were absolutely right.

According to a survey published by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72 percent of likely voters supporting Donald Trump say America has changed for the worst since the 1950s. By contrast, 70 percent of likely voters supporting Hillary Clinton say that America has changed for the better since that decade.

Not surprisingly, these findings are also sharply divided based on racial lines. While 56 percent of white Americans say America has changed for the worse since the 1950s, 62 percent of African-Americans and 57 percent of Hispanic Americans say that it has changed for the better.

That said, 56 percent of college-educated white Americans also believe that America has changed for the better since the 1950s; 65 percent of white Americans without college degrees say that it has not.

The group that most yearns for the 1950s? White evangelical Protestants, 74 percent of whom think things have gotten worse.

Across the board, the study found that Democrats were more likely to care about social justice issues than Republicans. Seventy percent of Democrats said that income inequality mattered to them personally compared to only 29 percent of Republicans, while 61 percent of Democrats said race relations mattered to them personally compared to only 31 percent of Republicans.

Sixty-three percent of Democrats believe that immigrants strengthen American society, whereas 73 percent of Republicans say that immigrants threaten American customs and values.

Finally, 77 percent of Democrats say that America would benefit from more women serving in political leadership roles, a sentiment 62 percent of Republicans disagree with.

The 1950s is a decade closely associated with the Cold War, McCarthy era witch hunts, and violent backlash to the civil rights movement. Although not explicitly incorporated in the themes of Trump’s campaign, the Republican nominee’s critics have long noted that “Make America Great Again” could be viewed as a dog whistle for a return to an era before our society’s major strides in racial and gender equality.

As President Bill Clinton explained at a rally in September, “I’m actually old enough to remember the good old days, and they weren’t all that good in many ways. That message where ‘I’ll give you America great again’ is if you’re a white Southerner, you know exactly what it means, don’t you?”

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa