What Americans Want and the Importance of the Midterms

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Let’s look at some recent polls about the state of our nation on a range of social, economic and political issues, taking the pulse of what most of us want as a society. If we know some of what we want, we can then examine which elected officials and/or political parties can best bring about the desired results – which should, conceivably, influence how we vote.

Gun Control. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll shows that a strong majority of Americans want gun restrictions. 94 percent favor requiring background checks for all gun buyers; 92 percent favor adding people with mental illnesses to the federal gun background check system. Over 80 percent would like to see the legal age to purchase guns raised from 18 to 21 and a ban on bump stocks. Over 70 percent favor bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and on assault-style weapons.

Health Care. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of Americans believe that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure quality health care for all of us. Even among those who do not necessarily favor a single-payer system, Americans support retaining if not strengthening federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Abortion. Polls conducted in the last couple of years show that between 55 and 69 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade and legal abortion, depending on how the question is asked.

Same-sex Marriage. As we noted earlier, most Americans favor same-sex marriage. In a May 2018 Gallup poll, 67 percent of Americans are supportive; significantly, this “is up 40 percentage points from the 27% who supported gay marriage when Gallup first polled on the question in 1996.”

Mueller Probe. A CNN poll in September 2018 showed that half of Americans support Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian attacks on the 2016 election. The same poll indicated that six in 10 respondents feel that the Russia probe is “a serious matter,” and 72 percent supported Trump’s testifying to the Mueller team under oath.

Equal Pay. A Rasmussen poll in April 2018 showed that 67 percent of Americans “favor a California law that mandates equal pay for men and women if they do ‘substantially similar work’ for a company even if they have different job titles or work at different locations.”

SNAP Benefits. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, has been in effect since 1964. A new survey commissioned by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and conducted June 5 to June 12 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that most registered voters (61 percent) oppose recent efforts to scale back the program. These respondents also believe the government should be doing more to meet the needs of people facing food insecurity and other challenges.

Prison and Sentencing Reform. An August 2018 poll from the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland demonstrated again overwhelming support for reforms to America’s criminal justice system. On the issue of mandatory minimum sentencing, 75 percent support changing the 20-year mandatory minimum for a second drug offense to 15 years while giving judges discretion to increase a sentence; 70 percent favor changing mandatory life sentences for a third drug offense to 25 years while giving judges discretion to increase a sentence.

It should be noted that, just because a majority of Americans want something, does not make it “right” or “ethical.” It can be argued, for instance, that most of our country at one time supported slavery and Jim Crow laws (or at least the benefits that accrued from them), and those practices had to be outlawed to make us “a more perfect union.” What the above issues show, however, is that most of us want a country that is generally fair and equitable for  law-abiding citizens.

Voting in Our Own Best Interests

These issues that are now favored by so many Americans across the country are, for the most part, promoted and supported by Democrats. A Washington Post article from December 2016 makes the argument that “Many self-identified Republicans vote against their own self-interest.” While this may seem shocking and counter-intuitive, the authors argue that this happens because Republicans are more united ideologically than Democrats are. This unity makes Republicans overall more powerful.

It is also not always clear that voters know what a given candidate for office truly stands for, and some of our national issues are quite complex. We have, it can be argued, been at the mercy of ideological stances for a long time. Most ideologies are neutral in many ways: patriotism, “law and order,” fairness, equality, respect for life, security. But rhetoric, money, motives, effective publicity, and other influences can make black look white and hide or obscure facts and vital information.

Can we citizens make a vow, not only in this election cycle but from now on, to examine how our values and needs – both individually and collectively – mesh (or do not mesh) with the policies of our elected officials and those running for office, at all levels? Can we promise ourselves not to let rhetoric or empty promises blind us to realistic, pragmatic and workable initiatives?

What if more Americans started looking beyond ideology and supported candidates and policies that more closely aligned with what they really wanted for themselves, their families and their/our country? The survival of what we hold dear depends on our vigilance, keeping our eyes wide open, and voting in every election.