Polls from the Past: Thanksgiving Day

Linley SandersData Journalist
November 22, 2022, 6:57 PM GMT+0

The United States has celebrated "a day of Thanksgiving" since 1789 — but formal polls involving the holiday did not begin until the early 1900s. To explore how public opinion around the American holiday has changed over the decades, YouGov used the Roper iPoll Archive to find historical poll questions that could be re-asked today, as part of a series called Polls from the Past. From questions on whether Americans are feeling especially thankful to where they want to spend the holiday, here are five snapshots of Thanksgiving opinions, then and now, with all figures among Americans who have an opinion about each of these questions:

Would you rather have $1,000 cash or family time on Thanksgiving Day?

Would you rather receive cash or family time on Thanksgiving? Americans in 2022 are twice as likely as people in 1991 to opt for cash over family time. More than two in five Americans (44%) today say they would rather receive $1,000 than attend the family holiday (56%), if given the choice. The question was modeled after a 1991 Mellman & Lazarus poll, which found that just 19% of Americans would accept the cash and 81% want the family time — even though $1,000 in 1991 is worth more than $2,000 today.

Most Americans attend family get-togethers because they feel good

Americans with an opinion are nearly twice as likely in 2022 as they were in 1991 to say that they meet with their family on special occasions because they think it's the right thing to do (29% vs. 16%), rather than something that feels good. Even more Americans say that they get together with family because it makes them feel good (71% vs. 84%).

Should Thanksgiving Day be moved?

Americans enjoy having Thanksgiving Day land on the fourth Thursday of November — or at least, it's preferred to one possible alternative, of changing the holiday to the fourth Friday of the month. In a question modeled after a 1985 Roper Organization poll, YouGov asked Americans if they would want to change Thanksgiving Day to a Friday (which would usually fall on what is now known as Black Friday — not an official holiday in the country but an unofficial shopping day). Americans in 2022 reject the idea (73%), though not by as much as they did in 1985 (84%).

While Americans do not like the idea, Thanksgiving Day has been moved before. In 1939, President Roosevelt shifted the Thanksgiving holiday from the last Thursday in November to the second-to-last Thursday. In 1941, Congress split the difference, making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday of the month — usually its last Thursday but sometimes the second-to-last — and Roosevelt signed it into law.

Do Americans want to spend Thanksgiving at the White House?

Just like when Republican President George W. Bush was in office, Americans would prefer to spend Thanksgiving at their own house rather than the White House. A question modeled after a 2005 Fox News / Opinion Dynamics poll finds that 84% of Americans who chose between the two options would rather be in their own home, the same as in 2005.

Many Americans say they are more thankful this year

About two in five Americans say that as this Thanksgiving approaches, they are feeling more thankful than they had for other Thanksgivings a few years ago. That appears to be nothing new: A 1974 survey from Louis Harris & Associates found that 39% of Americans said they were feeling more thankful. Slightly less than half in both 1974 (46%) and in 2022 (43%) say that they feel about the same level of gratitude as usual — and less than half as many in each year say they are less thankful than say they are more so.

— Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

This poll was conducted November 14 - 18, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Related: What Americans think about Thanksgiving foods and traditions

Image: Adobe Stock (sonyakamoz)

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