Cross-Currents of Cultural Change

Immigration and cultural change have long been hot topics in the marketing community. Of course, cultural change in all its permutations and nuances comes from within US borders as well as from outside those borders. Whether from youthful generations asserting their uniqueness and aspirations or from cultural constituencies and ethnic groups navigating the uncertain waters of assimilation and tradition, such change is a constant.

What is less constant, however, is the attitudinal landscape composed of shifting notions of what’s “good” and what’s “bad” for one group or another or for the country as a whole. A year of presidential politics guarantees movement if not upheaval in whatever equilibrium existed prior. As multicultural marketers we are continually taking stock of the demographics and psychographics of cultural change, but in a presidential election year, especially one where immigration policies are center stage, such research acquires a special urgency.

Fortunately, the research community is as productive in this area as always, if not more so. PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and Brookings Institution recently released survey results that address American attitudes toward immigration and cultural change in the context of the 2016 election. The results are remarkable and relevant to our evolving understandings of cultural change in the US marketplace.

Here are some highlights from the PRRI/Brookings study:

1.      Overall, Americans are equally divided as to whether their “culture and way of life” are better off or worse off since the 1950’s. White “working class” Americans (62%) and white evangelical Protestants (70%) are prominent among those who believe things are “worse off.”

2.      By party affiliation, two-thirds of Republicans think their culture has changed for the worse since the 50’s, while two-thirds of Democrats believe things have changed for the better. Independents, now a substantial political faction, mirror the public at large – splitting 50/50 on this issue.

3.      In a similar vein, fully 74 percent of Republicans (and 83 percent of supporters of their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump) believe that “foreign influence over the American way of life needs to be curtailed.” In contrast, only four in ten Democrats believe that statement.

4.      American are split 50/50 between those who feel “uncomfortable” around immigrants who speak a language other than English. By political party, however, stark differences emerge. Among all Republicans, 66 percent say they feel uncomfortable in such circumstances (77 percent of Trump supporters, generally a subgroup of Republicans), while two-thirds of Democrats say that scenario would not bother them.

There are many other related facets to this study; however, the above seems to encapsulate important undercurrents and cross-current of American attitudes in an election year when at least one candidate has played to such thoughts and feelings.

Implications for multicultural market researchers: While certain assumptions form a sort of bedrock of multicultural marketing – cultural change is significant, here to stay, generally good, laden with opportunities, and inherently interesting – the snapshot cross-section of attitudes listed above surely begs some discussion. Perhaps one conclusion is that the work must continue to edify and inform business people and others of the importance and richness of cultural differences as well as cultural change. Such work has significance not only for the “marketplace” for goods and services but also the “marketplace” of ideas. This political season will undoubtedly see a mobilization of various cultural constituencies. Hopefully, the positive contributions of multicultural marketers and market researchers will be heard resoundingly across the land.