On 3 August 2015 Fox News released a survey of the political climate in the United States. Conducted from 30 July to 2 August by Anderson Roberts Research (D) and Shaw and Company Research (R) it has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent. (I was immediately struck by the fact that even some reputable survey companies in America are labelled Democrat or Republican.)
Most of the questions in the survey were about the level of support of political candidates. At this stage, as we all know, Donald Trump is leading the polls, although following his debate performance and its aftermath he seems thankfully to have plateaued, as I predicted. The other prediction I made was that Carly Fiorina would shine once Republicans got to know her, and that has happened too. I also said I might even consider voting for her myself, but the more I know … well let’s just say I got that one wrong. She’s a candidate that Republicans should continue to seriously consider, but she’s far too conservative for me. At this stage, if I was forced to vote for a Republican, it’d be John Kasich.
Anyway, as far as what’s important to voter in the United States, the results make interesting reading. For many of the issues, what a person considers important is very different depending on political affiliation and race.
Economy and Jobs
For all groups “The economy and jobs” is the most important issue, although for black voters it’s noticeably more important. This is probably because whenever there is an economic downturn, it is minorities that suffer most. The unemployment rate for African-Americans is always higher than for other Americans, and that is exacerbated when times are tough. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall unemployment rate has dropped from a high of 10% in October 2009 to 5.3% in June 2015. However, the unemployment rate of African-Americans is still 9.5%, while the unemployment rate for white Americans is less than half that at 4.6%. It’s no wonder black Americans consider this by far their most important issue.
When is comes to terrorism, Republicans (14%) appear to be a lot more worried than their Democratic (9%) compatriots. In perusing US media, it seems to me there’s a lot more coverage of domestic terrorism in the right-wing media, but I’ve no way of knowing whether my impression is accurate. If it is, that’s likely the explanation for the greater concern of Republicans. The US National Center for PTSD says in a piece entitled The Effects of Media Coverage of Terrorist Attacks on Viewers, “… too much trauma-related television viewing may have a negative impact, especially on children.” Since 9/11, there have been 71 Americans killed via terrorism in the United States. The US Disaster Center reports the total number of murders between 2002 and 2013 was 189,940. It’s clear that people in the United States have a much greater chance of being murdered for a reason other than terrorism, but it’s terrorism that makes it into the list of important issues.
Republicans appear to be a lot less worried about healthcare than the rest of the population. Only 7% of them think it’s an important issue, while 15% of African-Americans (more than 90% of whom vote Democrat) and 16% of Democrats do. Those Republicans who have spent the last several years trying to repeal Obamacare and are declaring that’s what they’ll do as soon as they become president are actually not appealing to many of their voters – most Republicans have got over it. Those who are worried about healthcare are probably concerned they’ll lose coverage if the Republicans win the election. The difference between the parties is possibly an issue of demographics – in the USA the poor and minorities often do not have access to good healthcare, and they are more likely to vote for the Democratic Party. Overall the number without health insurance is down to an all-time low of 12.9% since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and it is the poor and minorities who have taken the greatest advantage of its provisions.
As with terrorism, the role of the media can be seen in the immigration issue. Republicans (10%) are twice as worried about immigration as Democrats (5%), and more than three times as worried as African-American (3%) voters. Donald Trump’s rhetoric in particular has received a lot of attention. His ridiculous statement that he’s going to build a wall on the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it, without any plan on how he’s going to do it, nevertheless has a portion of the Republican party very excited. He’s also accused the Mexican government of deliberately sending their rapists and murderers to America, which rather too many people seem to think is true. The fact that immigrants, legal or otherwise, actually commit less crime than other Americans is something that you’d be hard-pressed to get some on the far-right to believe even if you showed them the statistics. He’s tried to walk some of his comments back a little since, insisting he loves Mexicans, he has a lot working for him, and he’ll win the Hispanic vote. To me this simply exposes an arrogant, patronizing attitude.
Foreign policy is another area where there are significant differences between Democrats and Republicans – Republicans (9%) think the issue is more than twice as important as Democrats (4%) and nine times more important that African-American (1%) voters. This goes back to the fact that Republicans think President Obama is mishandling foreign policy and having a negative effect on the country’s reputation. They consider he’s made the USA appear weak, and isn’t aggressive enough, especially in relation to Putin and the Middle East.
It’s debatable how accurate the Republican assessment of Obama’s foreign policy is – there’s no doubt it’s problematic is some areas. However, I haven’t heard any better ideas from any of the Republican candidates and in fact the pronouncements of most of them show they have a limited understanding of foreign affairs. Ben Carson thinks it’s a good idea to stop all foreign aid because, “we can’t afford it,” and several other GOP candidates have voiced similar opinions. They’d soon find out the value of foreign aid if they stopped it, and how much it saves in the long-term. The goodwill it buys, especially with those governments that might otherwise get closer to Russia or China, is invaluable. Also, things like improving conditions in other countries so less people will be tempted to try and enter the USA illegally, and long-term, create more stable democracies around the world makes things better for everybody.
Climate change demonstrates the most significant difference between the parties’ supporters. Only 1% of Republicans versus 8% of Democrats think this is an important issue. Candidates in the Republican presidential primary who accept that climate change is real, like Lindsay Graham, face an uphill battle in the contest. Obama’s latest policy announcement on the topic was immediately declared illegal by Republicans, and efforts to block it started straight away.
As can be seen from the graphic to the right, the difference between whether members of the public accept that anthropogenic climate change is real shows a strict partisan divide in the United States. Only 37% of Republicans accept the science, with even less recognizing it’s a threat to their country. A vast majority of Democrats (79%) on the other hand both accept the science and recognize it’s a major threat. This level of denial among Republican Americans is concerning. In the same survey, we see that 37% of Americans do not think that scientists generally agree that climate change in man made, although in fact 87% of scientists in the survey generally agreed it was man made.
Another area where there’s a wide range of opinions about the importance of an issue is race relations. Black Americans (11%) think the issue is more than twice as important as the population as a whole (5%) and more than five times as important as Republicans (2%). Democrats come in at 8% on the issue. As an outsider, I see a huge amount of denial in the United States about whether racism even exists, especially when I watch Fox News. One of the most common comments goes something like, “How can you say there’s racism here – we’ve got a black president?” Whenever there’s an incident of urban unrest in poor black neighbourhoods, the commentators always come out blaming things like the breakdown in black families and a culture of violence. An article I read recently in Salon by Chauncey Devega, White America’s racial amnesia: The sobering truth about our country’s “race riots”, could do with being read widely and absorbed by the right-wing media. The fact that black communities always assume that the death of a black suspect at the hands of a white police officer was unwarranted, and continue to think that even when it’s proven unequivocally that the police officer did nothing wrong (such as in Ferguson), says to me there’s a systemic problem that needs to be dealt with.
Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion
Social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion are much higher on the Republican agenda (4% and 3% respectively) than the Democratic one (1% each). Almost all those in the GOP presidential primary have come out in opposition to same-sex marriage, while all the Democratic candidates are in support of it. I understand that some people are opposed to same-sex marriage for religious reasons, although personally whatever their reason, I consider their opposition bigotry, as I wrote here. What I don’t understand is that some people are so concerned about the private lives of other people that opposing it is so important that it effects who they vote for.
It’s a different story for same-sex couples who wish to marry and previously couldn’t – for them it’s obviously a genuinely important issue. Interestingly, opposition to same-sex marriage is much more important to black voters (6%) than anyone else. Traditionally, there’s a strong evangelical Christian element in the black community that’s strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. When the issue came up on the ballot in liberal California, it was black voters that defeated the proposition.
Despite the constant mantra from politicians about the tax code, there doesn’t actually seem to be that much interest in it from voters, whatever their politics. Only 2% of Republicans and 3% of Democrats consider this a major issue. I would suggest either they’re fairly satisfied with the status quo, or they don’t really think anything will change whoever gets elected. Several of the Republican candidates are promoting the idea of a flat tax, insisting it’s much fairer. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office confirms that a flat tax would significantly raise the taxes on the poor and middle-class and lower them on the rich. When faced with that fact on Fox News Sunday this week, candidate Ben Carson continued to insist that a flat tax would increase opportunities for the poor, displaying his weak grasp of economic fundamentals. Like many in the GOP he still believes that trickle-down economics is valid. To his credit though, he does support a raise in the minimum wage.
There’s an issue that many voters seem to be pretty concerned about (5% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans) that I haven’t addressed and that’s the federal deficit. This is a complicated issue, and it needs a post on its own to deal with it. Suffice to say, the current US deficit is not as serious as many think it is because the underlying fundamentals of the economy are good. If the US had the fundamentals of Greece, then yes, there’d be a problem. What I will say is this: any politician who proposes a Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget should be kept well away from economic policy – he or she obviously doesn’t understand the subject. Government spending, business spending, and personal spending cannot and should not have the same tests applied to them.
In the unlikely event you’ve made it to the end of this fairly boring post, I give you this as a thank you: