Opinion

Philadelphians by Attitude: The 4 Types

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In analyzing public opinion, pollsters usually categorize people based on parameters such as age, race, income, and education level. Now The Pew Charitable Trusts, after years of polling in Philadelphia, has come up with something different.

Based on an approach developed by the Pew Research Center, we’ve developed a way of looking at Philadelphians based on what they think about their city rather than where they show up in various demographic categories. We think this approach provides useful insights about the residents of Philadelphia and their concerns about the city’s future.

Our process, which used a series of specially designed questions and a technique known as cluster analysis, created four categories of Philadelphians: Dissatisfied Citizens, Die-Hard Loyalists, Uncommitted Skeptics, and Enthusiastic Urbanists.

Here’s a brief description of each:

  • Dissatisfied Citizens: These individuals, who represent 30 percent of the population, tend to be unhappy with their neighborhoods, disenchanted with city government, and not optimistic about Philadelphia’s prospects. Most have lived in the city their entire lives but would move out if they could.
  • Die-Hard Loyalists: Accounting for 25 percent of residents, they see a bright future for Philadelphia and want to be part of it. They feel strong ties to their neighbors and think more should be done to preserve city neighborhoods and support longtime residents. Many are lifelong Philadelphians.
  • Uncommitted Skeptics: Members of this group, which also represents 25 percent of the city, have little attachment to Philadelphia. They have doubts about the effectiveness and goals of local institutions, including the business community, the police department, and local government.
  • Enthusiastic Urbanists: This group—the smallest at 19 percent of the population—is excited about the city and its future. Many of these residents are relative newcomers who view Center City as vital to the city’s well-being and think that Philadelphia must attract new residents if it is to thrive.

Although the categories are defined by attitudes, each group has distinctive demographic characteristics. Dissatisfied Citizens are disproportionately low-income and African-American. Die-Hard Loyalists are typically over age 50. Uncommitted Skeptics tend to be young and middle-class. And Enthusiastic Urbanists are the wealthiest and best-educated group.

The composition of these groups and their attitudes toward Philadelphia are open to interpretation.  But here are a few thoughts worth considering.

When 30 percent of a city’s population qualifies as “dissatisfied”—owing in large part to the city’s 26 percent poverty rate—that is cause for real concern.  But there is also good news in our findings. We categorized 25 percent of Philadelphia’s population as Die-Hard Loyalists, and 95 percent of these people say they hope to spend the rest of their lives in the city. What’s more, it’s hard to imagine that the Philadelphia of 30 years ago had many residents who would qualify as Enthusiastic Urbanists.

In some respects, the Uncommitted Skeptics are the most intriguing of the four groups. They like some aspects of Philadelphia, but nearly all of them say they would find it easy to leave. And because many of them are relatively young and well-educated and in decent financial shape, they are quite capable of leaving.  

A number of things about Philadelphia trouble them. They think the city has more than its share of problems, that too much attention has been paid to Center City, and that city officials are more interested in helping friends and associates than all residents. This group is 43 percent black, 39 percent white, and 10 percent Hispanic, a demographic very much like the city as a whole.

The challenge ahead for Philadelphia is to reduce the number of Uncommitted Skeptics and Dissatisfied Citizens while increasing the ranks of the Die-Hard Loyalists and Enthusiastic Urbanists. Although this might seem to be a daunting task, how many Philadelphians a generation ago could have foreseen a growing city with two-thirds of its population saying the best days are still to come?

To take a quiz and find out what kind of Philadelphian you are, go to www.pewtrusts.org/what-sort-of-philadelphian-are-you.

To learn more about the four groups and how they were developed, go to www.pewtrusts.org/philaresearch.

This op-ed was first published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on November 29, 2015. Larry Eichel is director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia research initiative.

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