If Polls Ruled: Would Congress finally cooperate?

US Capitol Dome divided

Click on this image to read my January 4 column on political polarization.

Should public opinion rule?

All week, we’ve looked at this question by examining public support of key proposals Obama outlined in his State of the Union address. Many of his proposals have majority support among the American people: raising the minimum wage and strengthening labor unions, using military force against ISIL and ending the trade embargo with Cuba, and strengthening environmental pollution controls. Americans disagree, however, with his intention to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Today, we consider the issue of congressional cooperation itself. Obama called for more cooperation across the political divide. Many Americans see the lack of cooperation as a major issue. In 2014, complaints about government leadership—Congress, Obama, and political conflict in general—topped the list of the most important problems facing the nation, according to Gallup.

Gallup also reports that the majority of Americans (53%) say that it’s more important for our political leaders in Washington to compromise than to stick to their beliefs.

As we started this new year, I identified political gridlock in Washington as one of five major issues Americans will face throughout 2015. My earlier column pointed out that rising numbers of Americans think that our two major political parties represent a threat to the nation. Now, in this Gallup data, we see more than half of Americans urging compromise across the political chasm.

Americans agree with the president that we want more cooperation and civility across the political divide. However, given Republican control of the House and Senate, and a Democrat as president, more cooperation doesn’t seem likely.

Do you want our leaders to compromise or stick to their beliefs?
Would members of Congress finally cooperate if they used public opinion to make policy?
Would you like to see “rule by poll”?

Your opinion matters

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If Polls Ruled: Guantanamo Forever?

A US Army guard checks on detainees at Guantanamo prison camp

A US Army guard checks on detainees at the Guantanamo prison camp. (Photo by Navy Petty Officer Michael Billings, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

In his State of the Union address, Obama reiterated his determination to close forever the Guantanamo Bay prison. If public opinion ruled, would we see the detention center finally closed?

Over a decade ago, the detention center was established at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station to hold and interrogate military prisoners considered to be especially dangerous. Over the years, it proved to be of dubious value for military intelligence, a venue for prisoner mistreatment, a terrorist propaganda and recruitment platform, and expensive.

Do Americans support Obama’s pledge to close the GTMO prison?

Public opinion is not on the president’s side. In four surveys since 2007, Gallup consistently found that the majority of Americans do not want the prison closed.

But Gallup asked this question in a complicated way, committing what survey researchers call a double-barreled question: essentially, one question that actually includes two questions but allows for only one answer.

Here’s the item: “As you may know, since 2001, the United States has held people from other countries who are suspected of being terrorists in a prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Do you think the United States should—or should not—close this prison and move some of the prisoners to U.S. prisons?”

Public opinion has been pretty steady on this issue. In 2014, 66% of Americans said we should not close the prison, while 29% said that we should. But we don’t know from these answers if the majority of Americans want the prison to remain open no matter what, or they want it to remain open because they don’t want the prisoners on American soil.

It seems to be the latter. In a 2009 Gallup poll, the question was asked about closing the prison but without any elaboration of what would happen to the prisoners. Forty-five said the prison should be closed, with 35% saying it should not.

Do you think the Guantanamo Bay detention center should be closed?
Should public opinion decide the matter?

Share your thoughts …

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If Polls Ruled: Would we continue to have freaky storms like Juno?

Snowfall recorded January 27 2014

Juno—the massive winter storm pounding New England—isn’t quite the historic storm the National Weather Service predicted. But climate change scientists attribute Juno (and the severe, variable weather we’ve had in recent years) to global warming.

If polls ruled, what would the majority of Americans want done?

In his State of the Union address, Obama heralded the historic agreement between the U.S. and China to cut or limit carbon emissions. A majority of the American people favor proposals to reduce carbon emissions, reports Gallup. In March 2014, 65% of Americans said that they favored “setting higher emission standards for business and industry.” And, almost as many (63%) favored “imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases.”

These majorities, however, are lower than they used to be. Gallup’s data shows a downward slide in support for these two emissions proposals. In 2003, for example, 80% of Americans favored setting higher standards for business and industry, and 75% favored imposing mandatory controls on emissions and greenhouse.

Meanwhile, one of Congress’s leading global warming skeptics—Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma—just voted in favor of a resolution that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” However, he continues to scoff at the idea that climate change has anything to do with human activity.

Do you favor higher emission standards for business and industry?

Do you support imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases?

Should public opinion set climate policy?

Your viewpoint matters …

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If Polls Ruled: Should polls decide foreign policy?

Cuba coral reef

ARE AMERICAN’S EAGER TO DISCOVER CUBA’S TREASURES? Since President Obama’s move to reconnect with Cuba, a host of news stories are emerging about treasures Americans may want to experience in the island nation. Much has been reported on Cuba’s environmental sustainability. Last week, National Public Radio broadcast a report on the remarkably pristine giant coral along Cuba’s northern coast. This photo was taken by “Calind,” who has provided the photo for public use.

Republicans and Democrats are immobilized by their mutual opposition, but Americans agree about a range of issues. Yesterday we considered domestic issues.

Today, we look at two key foreign policies. How would you feel if polls dictated our foreign policies?

Use of Force …

In his State of the Union (SOTU) address, Obama asked Congress to pass a resolution that would authorize the use of force against the ISIL, also known as ISIS. (The Administration prefers the term ISIL or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant over ISIS—Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.) We’re already using force against ISIL, but a Congressional resolution would convey broad political support.

What do Americans think about this use of force? Americans generally favor it, according to Gallup. In September 2014, Gallup asked respondents if they approved or opposed the military actions the U.S. was taking against ISIS. Two-thirds of Democrats (64%) said they approved. Two-thirds of Republicans (65%) also approved. A majority of political independents (55%) said they were in favor as well.

Opening doors to Cuba …

Obama also addressed foreign policy closer to home, calling for an end to the trade embargo with Cuba. On this issue, Pew has more recent data than Gallup. In a survey just this month, Pew found that almost two-thirds (63%) approved of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. And, two-thirds (66%) also favored ending the half-century-long trade embargo with the island nation.

Would you like to see a Congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against ISIS?
Should we end the trade embargo with Cuba?
Should polls decide foreign policy?

Share your thoughts …

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If Polls Ruled: Should public opinion decide policy?

President Obama greets congressional pages at State of the Union

President Barack Obama greets House and Senate Pages as he departs the House Chamber after delivering the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon released for public use.)

Would our system of government work better if public opinion ruled? Republicans and Democrats can’t agree, but a majority of Americans agree on a number of key policy proposals. Should public opinion set policy?

One way to look at this is to examine public support of the proposals Obama outlined in his State of the Union (SOTU) address. Gallup analysts have done just that for 10 key proposals. This week, we’ll examine two each day.

Today, we look at proposals related to economic policy.

Do Americans want to raise the minimum wage? In his SOTU address, Obama urged Congress to raise it. Gallup last asked about this issue in November 2013. Then, three quarters of Americans (76%) were in favor. A January 2014 Pew poll found similar levels of support.

Do Americans want to strengthen labor unions? Right-to-work laws weaken unions. Obama said that we need laws to strengthen unions. Gallup reports that a majority of Americans (53%) approve rather than disapprove of unions. Since 1936, Americans have been more pro-union than anti-union. But, Gallup polls also show that an even larger majority of Americans (71%) favor right-to-work laws.

The full impact of right-to-work laws is yet to be determined. Michigan is now a right-to-work state. Union membership fell sharply in 2014, reports the Detroit News. The drop is attributed to the law.

Do you support raising the minimum wage?
Would you like to see laws that strengthen labor unions?
Should polls rule?

Share your thoughts …

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Sparks of Kindness: How far will the wildfire spread?

Giving food to cats in a shelter

SOME KINDNESS FOR OUR FURRY FRIENDS? “Sparks of Kindness” recommends remembering the non-human animals in our communities.

Sparks of Kindness are deliberate acts of generosity that makes life better for someone else. As we’ve discussed this week, Sparks of Kindness is also a social movement and Facebook group with lots of practical resources. We’ve talked about the wisdom of small experiments and big experiments, along with the paradox of generosity.

Are you a Spark of Kindness?

Tangible help is a product of Sparks of Kindness. So is hope. As founder Debbie Lowre McFarland said, “I have been contacted by countless people who said that the Spark they received came at a time when they had given up hope and it made them realize that there still are good people in this world and that they are not alone. The world seems just a little smaller…and kinder.”

I asked Debbie about her dreams for Sparks. “My dream for the Sparks of Kindness,” she replied, “is that it will spread as far and wide as possible. That people will see that it really is so easy to make a big difference. It only takes a Spark to ignite a wildfire. What I consider miracles have happened.”

On Monday, I provided a short sample of Sparks of Kindness. To fan the wildfire, we’ll end the week with some more examples from or inspired by Sparks of Kindness:

  • Hand out gloves and hats to homeless people.
  • Take pet food to an animal shelter.
  • Leave a lottery ticket for someone to find.
  • Anonymously give flowers to someone.
  • Pay for someone at the drive-through
  • Leave criticisms at home for the day.

Which of these is the most appealing to you?

What would you add to the list?

Please, share the news …

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Sparks of Kindness: Is generosity a paradox?

Cover The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Generosity is giving freely and unselfishly of your time, money, and resources to benefit others. But generosity is a paradox, say sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson.

How so?

It’s a paradox because the more we give away, the more we get in return. In their book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Smith and Davidson put it this way: “Those who give their resources away, receive back in turn. In offering our time, money, and energy in service of others’ well-being, we enhance our own well-being as well. In letting go of some of what we own for the good of others, we better secure our own lives, too.”

Generosity, then, is good for the giver and the receiver.

They note, too, that stinginess has a price. “By clinging to what we have, we lose out on higher goods we might gain. By holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. In protecting only ourselves against future uncertainties and misfortunes, we become more anxious about uncertainties and vulnerable to future misfortunes. In short, by failing to care well for others, we actually do not properly take care of ourselves.”

Understanding the paradox of generosity is easy, they say. But being generous can be hard. On this point, I beg to differ. Being generous is easy—once you think of Sparks of Kindness. This social movement provides everything from inspiration to practical tips and tools. You can see all these resources at their Facebook page.

Once you know about Sparks of Kindness, being generosity isn’t hard at all!

When you unselfishly help others, how does it make you feel?
Do you believe you get richer by giving riches away?
What’s your Spark?

What do your friends think?

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