From One Era of Political Dreaming to Another

The end of Obama's presidency does not mean people will stop dreaming about him, but it does signal a major change in the collective political climate of the U.S.
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The journalist Will di Novi just published an article in the Atlantic Monthly titled "What Weird Obama Dreams Say About the President's Legacy." It's a very thoughtful piece of writing that illuminates both the whimsy and wisdom of people's dreaming reflections on the outgoing President.

The end of Obama's presidency does not mean people will stop dreaming about him, but it does signal a major change in the collective political climate of the U.S. This change makes it highly likely that people's dreams are going to change as well. A new era of political dreaming has begun.

To begin a study of that transition, I recently commissioned a new survey of 2,000 American adults following the 2016 Presidential election that asked several questions about people's dream recall and their political views. One of the chief goals of the survey was to gather data from approximately equal numbers of people in three age groups: 18-34, 35-54, and 55+. Previous research has indicated that dream recall tends to be higher among younger than older people, but younger age groups are often under-represented in opinion research.

This survey, administered by YouGov about five weeks after the election, was designed to provide new data on possible correlations between age, dream recall, and political views (see the note below about YouGov's methodology). The survey included a total of 614 people between the ages of 18 and 34, 636 people between 35 and 54, and 750 people age 55 and older. These are large enough numbers of participants to enable some reasonable comparisons.

The results, though preliminary, highlight some intriguing age differences in dreams and politics. As anticipated, the people in the youngest group reported the highest level of dream recall, with 56% remembering at least one dream a week, compared to 43% of the oldest group who remembered their dreams this often (the middle age group had a recall rate of 54%). The youngest group also reported the highest frequency of talking about their dreams with other people like family and friends: 29% of the youngest group discussed their dreams with someone else at least once a week, while only 6% of the oldest group shared their dreams that often (compared to 18% for the middle age group).

These differences extended to their responses to the questions about political views. The youngest participants were the least likely to describe themselves as politically conservative (20% for the youngest group vs. 30% for the middle age group and 43% for the oldest group) and the most likely to describe themselves as unsure of their political ideology (21% vs. 16% and 6%). However, the youngest group had the strongest feelings about climate change, with 43% believing that immediate action is required to stop climate change, compared to 34% of the middle age group and 31% of the oldest group. Additional data from the survey, still to be analyzed, seem consistent with other polls showing a significantly higher percentage of 18-34 year-olds voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

These results suggest a generational divide in both dreaming and politics: Younger people are typically more engaged with their dreams and less supportive of Donald Trump's political movement, compared to older people who tend to be less engaged with their dreams and more supportive of the new regime. That may be a mere coincidence, of course. It may also signal a real difference in how people of various ages experience the world in waking and in dreaming.

I will pursue a more detailed analysis of the raw, unweighted data gathered in this survey over the coming months, and I plan to present the complete findings in June at the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. By that time, I may have gathered enough dreams of the new President to make some comparisons with people's dreams of his predecessor.

Note on YouGov's methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 16th December 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

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