4-12-2012

Cenk Uygur, of the Young Turks, tees off on the presentation of some polling data in this clip.  Rightly so:  The polling data shows Americans favor the Progressive view of things when it comes to a host of energy and environmental issues — in landslide proportions — yet CNN/Gallup chose to label their findings in a way that suggests a fairly even divide between Left and Right.

The findings that show Americans solidly in line with the Left include: setting higher emission and pollution standards for business and industry (70%, including most Republicans); spending more government money developing solar and wind power (69%, including most Republicans); spending government money to develop alternative fuels for autos (66%, including most Republicans); imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions (65%, including most Republicans); stronger enforcement of environmental protections (64%, including nearly half of Republicans); and setting higher auto emission standards (62%, including nearly half of Republicans).

The findings that lean to the Right are 65% favor opening more land to oil drilling and 52% favor expanding the use of nuclear energy.

And this is what Gallup tried to portray as mixed results?  Please.

Uygur argues that this isn’t the only poll showing Americans are more progressive than conservative.  He notes a poll on Iran, showing that most of us mistakenly think Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but still a majority opposes bombing Iran and supports direct diplomacy and economic sanction to resolve the issue — supporting the Progressive position (even to the left of Obama).  He also points to the internals of the Gallup poll, noted above, and notes that the findings fly in the face of the Right’s propaganda campaigns on the issues.  The country is “fundamentally progressive,” according to Uygur, and he’s correct.

When Pew Research breaks us down according to our positions on issues, rather than how we self-identify, they find that 37% fall into the Left and only 20% fall into the Right.  Of those in the middle, 13% lean to the Left, only 9% lean to the Right.

Other polls echo the theme.

A plurality say its the Democrats, not the Republicans, who: can better manage the federal government; improve the job situation; represent “your views on abortion”; deal with health care; deal with energy problems; deal with Medicare; best represents “your own personal values”; and is more concerned with “the needs of people like you.” A majority says the Republican Party is “more extreme in its positions.”

Over the past two decades, Pew has “found a very large majority of respondents agreeing with the statement that ‘this is a country in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.’ And, since the late 1980s, a growing number of citizens have begun to see the U.S. as a nation divided into two groups: the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’…. A forthcoming Pew Research Center report will show large majorities saying that while the government does not do enough for both the middle class and poor people, two in three think it does too much for the wealthy.”

A majority says the economy and job creation should be the #1 priority for the government.

An astounding 82% of Americans oppose Social Security cuts to reduce the deficit, including 83% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, 82% of Republicans, and 74% of Tea Party supporters.

A majority of Americans say:

  • our government should make sure everyone has an equal right to succeed (87%)
  • we need stricter laws to protect the environment (83%)
  • there’s too much power in the hands of big business (70%)
  • our government should take care of people who cannot take care of themselves (63%)
  • the government should guarantee food and shelter (62%)
  • big corporations make too much profit (62%)
  • it’s OK for blacks and whites to date (83%)

A minority of Americans say:

  • women should return to traditional roles (19%)
  • we have gone too far in pursuing equal rights (41%)
  • we should ban “dangerous” books from schools (46%)
  • schools should have the right to fire homosexual teachers (28%)

You have to be careful when reading analysis of poll results, because the pollsters have their own biases.  For instance, the Pew analysis says that a lowering of the percentage of people who say they are “very patriotic” is a shift to the Left, as if patriotism is a Rightwing or conservative, and not a Leftwing or liberal, value. The same is true for prayer being an important part of life — the Pew analysis says this is a Right/conservative value. I think Pew is dead wrong.

Most (56%) Americans favor federal regulation of private companies to reduce global warming .

Most Americans have a favorable opinion of labor unions, favor collective bargaining, and oppose cutting the pay and benefits of public workers to balance budgets.

Most Americans favor legalizing marijuana.  It hits 70% when you talk about medical marijuana.

Most Americans favor same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

Most Americans, including a plurality of Republicans, favor gays serving openly in the military.

Most Americans give our schools high marks, say teachers are paid too little, say their kids are getting a better education than they did and say studying a foreign language should be required in high school.

Fully 73% of Americans support Obama’s START treaty with Russia to reduce the nuclear arsenals.

Only 16% of Americans think gun laws should be relaxed — 42% say they’re fine “as is” and 40% want tougher rules.

An overwhelming 75% of Americans support a woman’s right to choose an abortion — only 23% say abortion should be illegal under all circumstances.

Most Americans are not comfortable with the idea of raising the Social Security retirement age.

Most Americans say there is solid evidence of global warming, most say it is a serious problem and a plurality  says it warrants immediate government action.

Most Americans say gay relationships are morally acceptable — and it’s been rising for several years.

Most Americans agree that rights should be protected even if that thwarts the will of the majority.

Most of us say we pay about the right amount of taxes (43% say it’s too much) — and the “about right” faction has grown from 45% in 1997 when the economy was much stronger.

Most Americans agree to the right of free speech even when that speech is offensive to most people.

Most of Americans think judges should interpret the law broadlynot narrowly focusing on the “original intent.”

Most Americans favor giving undocumented immigrants a way to become US citizens.

Only 25% of Americans say control of schools should be left solely to the states.

That’s not say that we Americans aren’t a bit schizo: We are very conservative on some issues.

The death penalty is favored by 61% (but support has been falling for about 10 years).

71% of us favor mandatory testing and using the scores to rate the schools.

72% of us say the poor are too dependent on the government.

You’ll weigh this out as you see fit to arrive at a political characterization of Americans, but to my eye we look decidedly Left-of-center and, in important ways, trending further Left.  Not only do most Americans stand on the Left side of most issues, they stand on the Left side of most of the most important issues.  (We’ll leave it for another day to wonder about our philosophical and political inconsistencies and gaps in our knowledge of the real world.)   But then, maybe I’m looking at the data through the filters of wishful thinking (although I’m not usually a “glass half full” kinda guy — more of a “the glass is 50% too big” kinda guy).

One thing that seems clear is that asking Americans whether they are conservative, liberal or moderate is not instructive, because the definitions of those words change from region to region, from hour to hour, from person to person.  (For instance, an August 1972 Gallup poll reported that 64% of all groups believed “a decision to have an abortion should solely be made between a woman and her physician,” and  more Republicans [68%] than Democrats [59%] held this view.)

So, take a deep breath and relax.  The data do not appear to support the notion that there’s been any sudden twist in the arc of the universe:

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. … When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

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