Although only 35% of respondents expect their personal financial situations to improve over the next year, three-fourths of those surveyed said it is still possible for people like them to achieve the American Dream, which the poll defined as the ability to advance as far as their talents will take them and live better than their parents did. A total of 59% said they currently are living the American Dream. Respondents identified owning your own home as one of the most critical parts of the American Dream, second only to raising a family.
"Owning a home continues to be the bedrock of the American Dream – even as incomes are down, jobs are scarce and families struggle to make ends meet," said Thomas J. Wilson, Allstate chairman, president and chief executive officer. "Homeownership is viewed positively by the vast majority of Americans as both a place to raise a family and a sound investment. As a result, financial institutions and the government must work together to ensure that those who can afford their homes stay in them and this opportunity remains a viable alternative for all Americans."
Despite their positive statements about owning a home, only 42% of those polled said that government's push to expand homeownership created more stable communities, while 51% said these policies made communities less stable because it "encouraged people to take on too much debt" and led to foreclosures. Those surveyed split exactly in half—46% on each side—on the broad question of whether Washington should continue or scale back its efforts to promote homeownership through policies such as tax incentives for first-time buyers and the mortgage interest deduction.
"Homeownership retains a powerful, almost tidal, grip on the American imagination," said Ronald Brownstein, editorial director of National Journal Group. "Even the economic experiences of the last several years don't seem to have dimmed the yearning for ownership. But we do see that the public is much more ambivalent about whether the nation's focus on expanding homeownership is a good thing for the country overall, with even the traditionally sacred cow of the mortgage tax deduction raising questions."
A surprising 43% of survey respondents explicitly favored eliminating or limiting the tax break for mortgage interest. However, one reason may be that few Americans understand how they benefit from Washington's role in homeownership. Three-fourths of homeowners said they have not benefited from any federal program to promote ownership, even though 71% of those owners acknowledged they take the mortgage interest deduction.
Key findings from the eighth Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll (PDF) include:
1) Americans still believe in homeownership as a sound investment. A solid majority (70%) of Americans would advise a family member or close friends to buy a home to build long-term assets.
- Just 27% disagree with this statement and say homeownership is too risky. This measure is essentially unchanged since the first Heartland survey in April 2009.
- Young Americans (aged 18-29) are less convinced, with 49% who agree that homeownership is a sound investment and 49% who say it is too risky.
- Asked to name the best investment, 24% of Americans say "buying a home," which ranks behind "investing in retirement savings" (38%), but ahead of "saving money in the bank" (20%), and "investing in the stock market" (6%).
- Most Americans (63%) believe that the current housing crisis is temporary and will improve over the next several years.
- Surprisingly, 58% of those who believe the housing crisis will remain a serious problem would still recommend buying a home.
2) Most Americans (59%) say they are living the American Dream.
- Those most likely to disagree include groups that typically have less of a safety net in a struggling economy: low-income households (51% disagree), those with a high-school education or less (43%), African-Americans (46%), and single mothers (68%).
- Three-quarters of Americans believe the American Dream is still achievable for people like them.
- 58% of Americans believe that the ability to achieve the American Dream is affected more by their own skills and hard work than by the state of the economy. This belief in hard work cuts across every demographic and socioeconomic subgroup.
3) Americans blame banks and borrowers more than the government for creating the housing crisis.
- More than half of Americans (52%) blame the housing crisis on banks and lending institutions for misleading borrowers and approving bad loans, while 32% blame people who bought homes and took out mortgages they couldn't afford, and only 12% blame government policies that encouraged too many people to try to own their own homes.
- Republicans are equally likely to blame individuals (37%) and banks (38%) for the crisis.
- Only 35% believe the federal government's policies helped limit the crisis, while 32% think they made the crisis worse and 26% think they had little impact.
4) Americans are split on whether the federal government should continue policies to encourage homeownership at the same level (46%) or scale them back because they cost too much (46%).
- There is a clear partisan dimension to this issue, as 59% of Democrats support continuing programs and 54% of Republicans support scaling them back.
- Homeowners may not realize the true extent of government involvement in encouraging ownership and mortgage financing. Three of four homeowners (76%) say they have not benefited from any federal government policy to promote ownership, including 71% of those who take the mortgage deduction.
5) Americans' opinions about the direction of the country, the economy, and President Obama have changed very little over the past year.
- Americans are still pessimistic about the direction of the country, with 60% who say it is on the wrong track, unchanged from the last Heartland Monitor poll in December 2010.
- Republicans are much more pessimistic (78% wrong track) than Democrats (41%).
- President Obama remains a polarizing leader, with 49% who approve of the job he's doing and 44% who disapprove.
- Democrats approve by 79%-18%, independents are split at 47%-43%, and Republicans disapprove by 17%-78%.
- When Americans are asked who they trust most to develop solutions to the country's economic challenges, President Obama (40%) continues to maintain a slight edge over Republicans in Congress (36%). This measure has changed very little since January 2010.
- Similarly, there has been little change in the perception of how Obama's policies have affected the country, with 13% saying the country is significantly better off, 44% saying it is beginning to move in the right direction, and 36% saying it is significantly worse off.