In 2016, we did a study asking people, “When was America greatest?” The real question being, if the goal was indeed to “Make America Great Again,” what exactly – or when – are we trying to emulate?

The #1 decade chosen by respondents – at 23% – was the 1950s. It jumped to 34% among Republicans, the majority of whom believed America was at its greatest in either the 40s or 50s. 

The first polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk (shout out to Pittsburgh) in 1955. Mass immunization campaigns took off, even though the science was still nascent, and risks were prevalent. Institutional trust and personal sacrifice overcame all that. Like the war effort a decade earlier, people saw vaccination as a civic duty. Eventually, polio disappeared. 

Not everywhere, though. 

Polio is still rampant in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Why? Largely because there’s a widespread conspiracy theory in those countries that the polio vaccine is being used for the sterilization of Muslims. No word on whether they think Bill Gates is behind it.

As you’ll see in the prevailing themes of today’s missive, as many as 1 in 4 Americans may refuse to be vaccinated for COVID. Making matters more complicated, it’s not one distinct group. Yes, party affiliation and preferred cable news network are very strong predictors of vaccine reticence, but they’re not as fool-proof or encompassing as most things we study. 

At the core of the problem – the non-partisan force, ironically – is institutional distrust. In this case, that distrust is spread far and wide, from government to the media to the entirety of medical science. 

One group parlays their institutional misgivings into an argument about personal freedom. Another group, justifiably so, attributes their suspicion to systemic and legacy inequities in policy and public health. Like a virus itself, doubt spreads rampantly, particularly when life and death are involved – and particularly when platforms and algorithms enable it to spread like wildfire. 

I don’t really know when America was greatest. The sense of national unity, duty, and sacrifice of the 40s and 50s was enviable, compared to today, but a lot of other things were horrifically worse. Don’t get me started.   

I’m not saying America isn’t great right now either, at least relative to many of our counterparts on the global stage. But it’s certainly far from perfect. 

That might be the only thing 100% of Americans can agree on.         

Here’s what we’re seeing: 

News media has a full-blown trust crisis on its hands and it’s getting worse. I wondered if maybe these tides would turn after the election was finally over, but nope. The surge of distrust in the first quarter of this year has taken things to new heights. People don’t feel like they can rely on the news like they once did and it gets worse among younger people (especially broadcast network news…yikes!).  Naturally, political tribalism plays a part. Eighty-two percent of self-IDed conservatives say they are very concerned about misinformation in the U.S. media. 

Soon, it will just be the vaccine refusers. The percentage of Americans who have received one or both vaccine shots continues to climb at a promising pace – but a pesky 1 in 4 are still on the fence or outright refusing to get vaccinated altogether. When you add up fears over side effects and lack of confidence that they will be effective, over half of the refusers are trepid because they don’t trust the science. Among these anti-vaxxers, concern that the vaccines were developed too quickly is the clear #1 reason. As my friend Tony Fratto said on Twitter: “Maybe Operation Warp Speed was a bad brand.” 

Incidentally, we have a sad but entirely unsurprising race problem when it comes to COVID vaccines. Non-white Americans have already fallen way behind Whites in their vaccination rate. We’ve seen in other questions we ask (not shown) that Hispanics and Blacks have had more difficulty getting appointments, even if they are eligible for the vaccine. And a larger group of minorities say they don’t plan to get the vaccine at all. Funny what generations of neglect and inequity from the healthcare system will do to institutional trust. Actually, it’s not funny at all.   

One more thing on vaccines – sorry, it’s important – but people are super-divided on the whole “vaccine passport” thing. This issue has all the makings of a political fist fight. When you pit the freedom of individuals against the freedom of privately-owned enterprises, you find yourself at loggerheads. It’s sort of like discouraging private companies from engaging in political activism but encouraging them to make political donations.

People are gearing up to travel again this summer, but stay-cations could still be the default. We did an extensive study on vacation and travel plans heading into the summer months and it’s a mixed bag of reservations and, um, reservations. Sixty-three percent of Americans are planning some kind of summer vacation – with 22% looking to book a hotel and 11% using Airbnb or other rental services. Still, a large percentage canceled or avoided vacation plans due to COVID trepidation. The numbers are particularly ugly for the cruise category. 

Nothing is going to change more dramatically or permanently than the way we work. On our podcast this week, we explored the future of work with Bracken Darrell, the CEO of Logitech. Logitech makes remote office technology, gaming accessories, and a bunch of other things that are completely booming because of the pandemic. Bracken sees it all.   

Account-mooching on Netflix dropped precipitously since the beginning of the pandemic. The percentage of Netflixers who are the only users on their account is up 33% versus this time last year – meaning the percentage of people sharing an account is way down. The difference, of course, is among Gen Z, where sharing an account with a roommate or milking their parents’ after moving home for quarantine is still high. My favorite stat in this study, though, is that 15% of Gen Zs say they are still using (or previously used) an ex-romantic partner’s login information for a streaming service, after their relationship ended. Another 18% said they would do it if their current relationship ends. Gen Z is the best.    

A few more studies this week:

  • Online activity and social media are down overall since the election – and the people still doing it the most are also the most stressed out;
  • People are more cautious about COVID right now because people aren’t being cautious about COVID right now;
  • Our latest Trend Adoption Tracker came out and most things are pretty flat, except language learning and meditation apps;
  • Americans are completely united over french fries…and ketchup.

And our most popular questions:

Answer Key: Does drinking count?; Very important; Seldom; Does drinking count?; Does drinking count?

Hoping you’re well, 



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