Do most people try to be helpful?

It’s not online, but I found the results of a poll of Americans in Friday’s Washington Post quite remarkable. The question was:

Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful, or that they are mostly just looking out for themselves?

The results were:

Try to be helpful: 52 percent
Mostly look out for themselves: 43 percent

The percentage of each group who say that people try to be helpful:

18-34 years old: 43 percent
[35-44 is missing]
45-54: 59 percent
55-64: 56 percent
65 or older: 56 percent

Republicans: 59 percent
Democrats: 49 percent
Independents: 54 percent

Northeast: 54 percent
Midwest: 53 percent
South: 45 percent
West: 60 percent

The age differential doesn’t surprise me. In my teens and twenties, I probably would have taken the more mistrustful view. The longer I’m around, the more I believe otherwise. Fortunately the concentrated personal nastiness you encounter among a segment of the blogosphere is not reflected so strongly in real life. I’m reminded of the great A.J. Liebling’s belief that “Cynicism is often the shamefaced product of inexperience.”

I am unfortunately also unsurprised by the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Too many Democrats these days are embittered by political losses and assume there is something wrong with the majority of their fellow Americans for not sharing their certainties. As I suggested after Bush’s reelection, viewing the majority of Americans with contempt is a perfect means of assuring many more years of political powerlessness.

As for the big difference between the South and the rest of the country– I haven’t got a clue.

Any thoughts about what kind of results you’d get from the same poll in the UK or other countries?