Public-Interest Polling

ATI #28 Highlights

"Who Will Reconnect with the People
Republicans, Democrats, or... None of the Above?"

June 20-28, 1995; N=1000 Adults
Conducted by Market Strategies, Inc.
Southfield, Michigan
Frederick T. Steeper

By Alan F. Kay, Hazel Henderson, Frederick T. Steeper,
Stanley B. Greenberg, Christopher Blunt

August 14, 1995
© 1995, All Rights reserved

Introduction. In the three years prior to the Republican revolution of November 1994, ATI research found a number of interrelated and coherent positions held by sizable majorities of the public on policy issues and legislation, both in the domestic arena and on international matters. Many of these have been ignored or, at least, not clearly embraced by our leaders and have been invisible in the major news media. This survey retested some of these positions, and found public support for them changed little even though Republican and Democrat legislative agendas have changed enormously. Among the general public Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; and conservatives, moderates, and liberals are closer to each other and more disconnected from the leadership than before the November election. Since establishing where, how and why the public differs from leaders is an important and unique aspect of ATI's work, these are highlighted here along with other important findings of this survey.

US Direction. For two years, by a steady two to one, the public has remained convinced that the United States is not moving in the right direction but is pretty seriously off on the wrong track. As recently as January 1994, Democrats and liberals were much more optimistic than Republicans and conservatives. Now there are few demographic differences.
World Direction. The view of the world (right direction/wrong track), starting at a post Gulf-war high of equal pessimism and optimism in November 1991, has now drifted off to the same two to one level of pessimism with which US direction is viewed.
Trust in Government. Trust in the government in Washington to do what is right is at an all time low and has generally decreased over the last ten years. Testing sixteen possible reasons for this situation reveals that the most widely-held (93% agree) belief is "government wastes too much money". Factor analysis demonstrates that there are two distinct patterns to the public's discontent: Conservative Cynicism (which is more policy-based) and Populist Cynicism (which focuses on politicians and government processes). Both cover large proportions of the American public, but Populism is the most pervasive and proves to be the strongest overall driver of government mistrust.
Federal budget deficit reduction is a top concern. Although it is not quite as universal an agenda item as crime, the deficit remains very important. A plurality or majority of Americans from across the political spectrum believe both deficit reduction and tax relief together are "very" or "extremely" important national goals. If the budget process was carried out as the public wanted, deficit reduction would be both different and deeper than what is currently being proposed.
An overwhelming majority prefers spending cuts to tax increases as a method of deficit reduction. When the two are used together, the median American says he would like to see three dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax hikes.
The public largely considers social security and Medicare to be "sacred cows"; most would exempt these budget items from cutbacks. Funding for these programs enjoys broad bipartisan support.
Although defense spending has been flat for the last few years, most Americans would like to see substantial reductions in this area. A large plurality believes we are spending too much on defense, and nearly two-thirds think the military budget should be cut. All told, the average person would trim nearly one-fifth from the Pentagon's budget.
Americans believe that much of this savings can be achieved through enlisting the help of allies in picking up the costs of military actions which benefit those allies.
Trust in UN vs in US Government. Trust in all institutions, especially governments, is at low levels. Since the US government wields so much more authority and is so much more intrusive and burdensome to average Americans than the UN, in this era of mistrust it is not surprising that the mistrust of the UN is less than of the US government. Responses to two questions bear this out: "How much of the time do you think you can trust the (United Nations/Government in Washington) to do what is right?" -- "just about always" (7% United Nations/3% Government in Washington), "most of the time" (40% UN/21% US), "only some of the time" (44% UN/55% US), and "almost never" (8% UN/21% US). Of 11 possible reasons for mistrust of the UN offered, the most agreed with anti-UN sentiment (54% agree, 31% strongly) is "The UN is run for the benefit of countries other than the US." The greatest disagreement, and the only reason with which a majority disagrees and has a strongly pro-UN reaction, occurs with, "The UN might become a world government and take away our freedom", to which 73% disagree (58% strongly), and 17% agree (11% strongly).
Although perceptions of the UN are relatively positive compared to the federal government, the organization's job approval has sunk to a four-year low. After peaking at a net 65% approval (percent approve minus percent disapprove) in November 1991, this figure has slipped to a net 22% in the current survey. The recent crisis in Bosnia appears to be taking its toll on public approval of United Nations activities.
Americans still want the United Nations to be the primary player in international affairs, however. Among those who think the UN should take the lead, a slight plurality does believe the United States should step in and take the lead if the United Nations refused to do something in the face of a dictator pursuing aggression against another country--- but this proportion has eroded somewhat over the last four years.
Although the public wants UN and allied involvement in military exercises, Americans believe, by a two-to-one margin, that American troops should serve only under U.S. command.
More than two-thirds of Americans continue to favor giving the UN the power to tax and monitor international arms sales. Over the course of four years of polling, support for this proposition has never fallen below 67%.
A majority thinks that an American withdrawal from the United Nations would result in either a global leadership vacuum or the passing of world leadership to another country within the UN. It should be noted, however, that nearly four in ten believe that such a withdrawal would have no important impact --- and that we could continue to provide effective world leadership on our own.
Americans are sharply divided in their attitudes toward the "two-war" policy and other details of military strategy. Beliefs about preferred national security policy bear a close relationship to perceptions about the current size of the US defense budget; those who do not think we spend enough on defense are more "hawkish" in their attitudes, while those who think we spend too much are more "internationalist" in their outlook.
A great majority of Americans are not aware of the scope of international currency trading or the lack of regulations on this market. While more than three out of four claim to be concerned at least "a little" about this lack of regulations, only 35% say they are bothered "a lot" by it.
We do find general support among the American public for regulation of the international currency market.
The idea of taxing international currency transactions to effect global cleanup is a popular one. The size of the tax makes little difference; the half sample that heard "one-hundredth of a percent" gave almost same support as half sample that heard "one-half of one percent".
The new World Trade Organization (WTO) is described in a fair but favorable way as a significant new international organization. Almost half of all Americans are not aware of the WTO, but more than half approve of it once they are told about its goals and objectives. We asked no further questions in this survey, but will revisit the subject again as its importance becomes clearer to Americans.