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Friday, February 26, 2010

Polls Make Their Appearance at the Healthcare Summit

Good news: the voice of the American people is being interjected into the debate on healthcare.  More and more elected officials and pundits quote survey data on this important topic. This includes a number of references to polls at Thursday's healthcare summit at the Blair House in Washington. The not so good news: some of the references to polls have puzzling or unknown origins.

The McConnell References
Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had obviously been well prepared by his staff at the healthcare summit. He made two separate, albeit nearly identical, references to polling. Both included a reference to our Feb. 23 USA Today/Gallup poll on reconciliation. Which I’m happy to say he quoted accurately. However, he also included difficult-to-verify references to aggregates of polling on healthcare legislation.

Here’s the first of McConnell’s statements:

One thing I think we need to be acutely aware of, ladies and gentlemen, we are here representing the American people. And Harry mentioned several polls. I think it is not irrelevant that the American people, if you average out all of the polls, are opposed to this bill by 55-37. And we know from a USA Today/Gallup poll out this morning, they're opposed to using the reconciliation device, the short-circuit approach that Lamar referred to, that would end up with only bipartisan opposition by 52-39.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Public Opinion and the Pending Bipartisan Healthcare Summit

The White House invitation to the Feb. 25 Blair House bipartisan summit on healthcare reform sketched out an agenda: opening remarks by the president, remarks from a Republican leader, remarks from a Democratic leader, and then a discussion moderated by the president on “on four critical topics: insurance reforms, cost containment, expanding coverage, and the impact health reform legislation will have on deficit reduction.”

No explicit time set aside for remarks reviewing the people's views on healthcare reform.

Is there a need for such a review? The Congressional leaders who show up at the summit -- in theory -- already carry with them the views and opinions of Americans. Members of the House and Senate are elected to represent the views of the people. They are stand-ins for what John and Jane Doe would do if they were able to be in Washington.

However. It does not appear that John and Jane Doe back home are fully appreciative of the degree to which their views are being represented by the people they elect. Approval of the job being done by Congress is very low. Americans have low trust and confidence in their representatives. Americans continue to believe that they personally are better equipped to make judgments than their representatives.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Press Secretary Gibbs Tweets Gallup and Other Poll Data

It's gratifying to see that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs tweeted about Gallup data Monday. This was Gibbs’ first day as an official tweeter.

What did Gibbs tweet?

Lost during the snow days in DC - Perceptions of US leadership improved significantly from 08 to 09

This is a reference to Gallup’s data on how residents in countries around the world rate U.S. leadership. Such ratings are higher now than in the latter Bush years. The median job performance rating for U.S. leadership in 2009 is 51%. In 2008 the median was 34%. Which explains why Gibbs was eager to promote the results.

Update. Press secretary Gibbs, into his second day of tweeting on Tuesday, tweeted about another poll.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Policy Direction from Americans: Update

Here's an update on Americans’ views on key issues facing the president and Congress. Polls released this week provide new data on several policy issues. These include a Washington Post/ABC News poll, a massive New York Times/CBS News poll (about 100 questions), and a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll.

Here are some policy areas upon which light has been shed.

1. Americans generally approve of gays and lesbians openly serving in the military.

This has become a well-documented public opinion finding.

All three of these recent polls generally show majority approval for this policy, with one exception. The polls come at it in different ways. The Washington Post/ABC news poll asked about “. . . homosexuals who DO publicly disclose their sexual orientation,” and found 75% approval. (Approval is higher when the wording says “. . . do NOT publicly announce . .”)

The Pew Research poll asked about “. . . allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military,” and found 61% in favor.

The New York Times/CBS News poll was more complicated. It included a split sample on the terms “gay men and lesbians” with “homosexuals.” Majorities approved of both such defined groups serving in the military. However, when those who favored “homosexuals” were followed up and asked about a situation in which homosexuals “openly announce their sexual orientation,”support dropped below majority level. For the “gay men and lesbian” wording, support stayed above majority level even with the “openly announce” follow up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Creating Jobs: The Public's View

There appear to be signs of bipartisan support for passing a new jobs bill. Whether or not it will be done by the time the Senate heads off for a week long President’s Day "state work period" (recess) is unknown.

The fact that the president and Congress are working on a jobs bill makes eminent sense from the public’s perspective. The number of Americans mentioning some aspect of the economy as the nation’s top problem is now over 70%. This represents a big jump from January. Additionally, about 9 out of 10 Americans continue to say that now is not a good time to find a quality job. As far as hiring is concerned, we have just about as many employed workers around the country saying that their companies are firing people as say they are hiring. When we first started asking this question in January 2008, almost four times as many employees said their companies were hiring as firing.

My colleague Dennis Jacobe just reviewed Gallup’s hiring and firing data across the nation’s states. Every state saw job conditions deteriorate in 2009 compared to 2008. The brightest lights were energy states and states with government employment. Not shockingly, Michigan (auto) and Nevada (housing and gaming industry) had the most negative job creation numbers in 2009.

On a related note, Newsweek’s cover story this week is: “Layoffs Are Bad for Business.” The article, by Jeffrey Pfeffer, goes on to make a case for just that premise. You get the gist of the piece from the subtitle "Our overreliance on downsizing is killing workers, the economy -- and even the bottom line."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Questions and Answers

What’s the latest update on the American public's state of mind and their concerns?

Let’s assume for the moment that the government wants to focus on what Americans think are the most important problems facing the country. The government would thereby: 1) help fix the economy, 2) improve the jobs situation, 3) address healthcare, 4) do something about the federal budget deficit, 5) fix the way government works in general.

These conclusions are based on our February update of Americans’ top-of-mind assessments of the most important problems facing the country. (More on these results at next week.) There were some changes from January to February in Americans' views of the most important problems. Number one was the sharp uptick in the percentage of Americans mentioning something to do with the economy. This included more mentions of the employment/jobs situation, and more mentions of the deficit when compared to January.

The economy has been the number one category of problems mentioned by Americans for years now. February data shows that the economy is now more likely to be mentioned than at any time since last April.

How Can Elected Officials Take Advantage of Polling Data?

A reader writes: “I wonder in what way you’d like elected officials to take advantage of polling data. I personally admire an elected official who is willing to do what he thinks is right even in the fact of dissent from his 'bosses' (i.e., the American people).”

Over the years, I have come to find that many people share these viewpoints. There is a great admiration among Americans for the leader who sticks to his or her beliefs regardless of what those around are saying. And for elected officials who do the same. At the same time, I am sure that most Americans recognize there is a point wherein a leader is so far out of step with the people that things move into dangerous territory. I am convinced that leaders need to tilt toward the "stay in close touch with the people" side of this continuum for a) practical reasons (if they don’t, the people will oust the leader, refuse to follow along, and so forth) and b) philosophic reasons (the collective views of the people are often as wise as, or more wise, than the views of any one person or small group of people).  
In fact, this reader goes on to say “I would rather the elected official 'take advantage' of the poll by using it to see where differences exist between the people and himself and working to come to an understanding of those differences.” That’s certainly reasonable. Had the White House and Democratic leaders early on paid somewhat closer attention to analysis and distillation of differences between the people and themselves on healthcare reform, they might well have increased their probability of getting a healthcare plan passed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tax the Rich, Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Moon, and Public Opinion

The new Federal Fiscal Year 2011 budget promulgated by the Obama administration Monday proposes increased taxes on those making $250,000 a year or more.

The data suggest that most Americans probably favor this proposal. A majority of 60% of Americans believe that the rich pay too little in taxes -- although this sentiment has moderated in recent years. The majority of Americans favor redistributing resources by more heavily taxing the rich. When various ways of paying for healthcare reform have been floated past the public in polls, the idea of increasing taxes on high income households has generally received strong majority approval. The two most recent polls that ask about this use a $500,000 threshold. A Kaiser Health Tracking poll showed majority support for taxing those making more than $500,000 to help pay for healthcare. As did a December Bloomberg poll. No recent data using a $250,000 threshold.

Even a $250,000 cutoff for increased taxes misses most Americans.  So most won't be affected.  And therefore most probably will support the idea.

The Obama administration is moving forward with plans to make it easier for openly gay soldiers, sailors, marines, and Coast Guardsmen to serve in the military.

President Obama announced this as an objective in his SOTU speech. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced on Tuesday that the military will spend a year studying the issue of how best to implement this change. The majority of Americans would most likely support such an initiative. In May of last year, 69% of Americans favored “allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military.” There is unusual consensus across partisan and ideological lines on this issue. A majority of Republicans, independents, Democrats, conservatives, moderates, and liberals all favor the change in policy.

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