POSTSCRIPT / December 17, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Updater on the US socio-political scene

WE share some of the noteworthy findings in 2019 of Pew Research Center, a Washington-based non-partisan think tank, on varied topics, from demographic and political changes reshaping the United States to the attitudes and experiences of people in other countries.

• The American public renders a harsh judgment on the state of political discourse in the US today. Large majorities of Americans say the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative in recent years, as well as less respectful, less fact-based and less substantive.

President Trump appears to be a major factor in people’s views: A 55-percent majority says Trump has changed the tone and nature of political debate in the country for the worse. Fewer than half as many (24 percent) say he has changed it for the better, while 20 percent say he has had little impact.

• The most active 10 percent of adult Twitter users in the US produce 80 percent of all tweets sent by these users. The median adult user of the platform tweets only twice a month, but a small group tweets much more frequently, according to an April study. In a follow-up study that looked at tweets about national politics, 97 percent of tweets that were created by US adults and mentioned national politics came from just 10 percent of users.

• Newspaper circulation in the US has fallen to its lowest level since at least 1940, the earliest year with available data. Total daily newspaper circulation – print and digital combined – was an estimated 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday in 2018. Those numbers were down 8 percent and 9 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

• Despite economic troubles facing the news industry, about 7-in-10 Americans (71 percent) believe their local news media organizations are doing well financially. This belief persists even though only 14 percent of US adults say they personally have paid for local news in the past year, whether through subscriptions, donations or memberships. When asked why they do not pay for local news, 49 percent of non-payers point to the availability of free content.

• The foreign-born share of the US population is at its highest point since 1910. Nearly 14 percent of people living in the US in 2017 were born in another country, extending a steady increase over the past few decades. More than 44 million immigrants lived in the US.

This foreign-born share, however, is far from the highest in the world. In 2017, 25 countries and territories had higher shares than the US, including Australia (29 percent), New Zealand (23 percent) and Canada (21 percent), as well as European countries such as Switzerland (30 percent), Austria (19 percent) and Sweden (18 percent).

• Hispanics are projected to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the 2020 electorate, overtaking the black voters for the first time. Hispanics are expected to account for just over 13 percent of eligible voters, slightly more than the black electorate.

A projected 32 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in 2020, compared with 30 million black adults. Asian voters will number some 11 million, more than double their 5 million in 2000. Asians will account for 5 percent of next year’s electorate, while all nonwhites will be a third of eligible voters.

• The US no longer leads the world in admitting refugees. While Canada resettled 28,000 refugees in 2018 – similar to its total in 2017 – the US welcomed only 23,000, down from 33,000 the year before. It was the first time the US was not the world’s top haven since the Congress created the refugee program in 1980.

The US previously admitted more refugees each year than all other countries combined. The number of refugees resettled in the US is likely to drop further: The Trump administration has set a new cap of 18,000 refugees in fiscal 2020.

• The number of people living in the US without authorization has decreased over the past decade, driven by a sharp decline in unauthorized immigrants from Mexico who used to account for the majority of unauthorized immigrants. By 2017, there were 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants, including 4.9 million Mexicans.

While the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico has decreased, the numbers from two regions – Asia and Central America – have risen. There were 5.5 million unauthorized immigrants from countries other than Mexico in 2017.

• Two-thirds of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, a reversal from two decades ago. Legalizing the drug – which is banned under federal law – has the backing of a majority of men and women; white, black and Hispanic adults; and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and Republicans and Republican leaners (though Democrats remain far more likely than Republicans to favor it, 78 percent vs. 55 percent).

An overwhelming majority of US adults (91 percent) say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use (59 percent) or that it should be legal just for medical use (32 percent). Some 8 percent prefer to keep marijuana illegal in all circumstances.

• The share of Americans with an unfavorable view of China reached a 14-year high amid a protracted trade dispute between the two countries. Six-in-10 US adults have a negative opinion of China, up from 47 percent in 2018 and the highest share since Pew began asking this question in 2005.

Around a quarter of Americans (24 percent) name China as the country or group that poses the greatest threat, double the share who said this in 2007. China is tied with Russia as the country or group most cited by Americans as a threat. The only other country to measure in the double digits is North Korea (12 percent).

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 17, 2019)

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