Questions From the Floor
A new poll has found that strong majorities of Americans have high levels of interest and concern about a range of issues that are rarely being discussed in the current political campaign. And on several key issues where candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore basically agree--the benefits of international trade and increased military spending relative to other priorities, for instance--the public does not.
The poll, commissioned by The Nation magazine and the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based think tank, found that:
§ Despite the booming economy many Americans worry about the disenfranchised: they show concern for the many Americans without health insurance (91%) and the gaps between rich and poor (74%). An overwhelming majority (81%) supports an increase in the minimum wage.
§ While both candidates express enthusiasm for the growth of international trade, a huge majority of voters (83%) wants to see this growth moderated by other goals--protecting workers, the environment and human rights--even if this means slowing the growth of the economy.
§ While both candidates are speaking in favor of increases in defense spending, a strong majority (63%) is interested in the possibility of redirecting defense funds to education and other priorities.
§ A clear majority considers it "very important" or "somewhat important" for the candidates to debate some of the foreign policy issues that are rarely being discussed, such as the comprehensive test ban treaty (80%) and contributing to international peacekeeping operations (86%). An equally strong majority (81%) wants the United States to work with other countries through the United Nations.
"These results suggest a disconnect between the rhetoric of the political campaign and the reality of public concerns," says Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation.
The poll was conducted in late September by the Center on Public Attitudes (COPA), an independent social science research center closely associated with the University of Maryland. It asked questions that had been asked in previous polls over the last several years by the Pew Research Center; ABC News; the Center's own Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA, a joint program with the Center on Strategicl and Internationa Studies at the University of Maryland); Newsweek; and CBS News/New York Times.
These questions were asked again to see if the current political campaign has made much difference in public attitudes. Surprisingly, The Nation/IPS poll found that voter views and levels of interest on these issues are generally about as strong as they were in mid-1999--even though many of the issues tested received scant attention during the last 12 months of intensive campaigning.
"Despite the assurances of politicians that times have never been better at home and that globally we're in a new era of Pax Americana, we see that a majority of voters are, in poll after poll, worried by unfettered free trade, growing inequality at home and abroad, and U.S. unilateralism. They are out ahead of one or both of candidates Bush and Gore in believing fair trade is more important than free trade, supporting cuts in military spending and reinvesting in other programs, and wanting the U.S. to play by the rules through the United Nations," says John Cavanagh, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies.