I’ve long been fascinated by relationships between government and citizens, and how government often seems deaf to citizen wants and wishes.
I don’t blame just government.
There’s indifference on both sides: policies driven, stalled, or stopped by politicians focused on the next election; and lax citizenship regarding voting.
The average of turnout in the last 10 general elections, 1998 through 2016, is below 50 percent; so, basically, more than half of the voting-age public has been disengaged.
(It feels, by the way, as if that’s changing for the better.)
And most big policies, from immigration to taxes to health care, become fodder for partisan warfare -- aimed at the next election -- benefiting politics first and the public good, if at all, only by coincidence.
With that in mind, let’s dive into some national polls and take this question along: What does America want?
We know 62,985,106 Americans wanted Donald Trump as president (maybe millions more if you count, cough, voter fraud). We know they liked his stance on immigration and repealing Obamacare.
Yet recent polling findings seem counterintuitive.
For example, though immigration spearheaded Trump’s campaign, and while he signed a travel ban and a get-tough deportation order his first week in office, it appears that voters now are less interested in immigration.
A Quinnipiac University poll March 8 asked what the administration should be focused on, first and foremost. Just 15 percent said immigration. The issue finished fourth behind health care (36 percent), infrastructure (30 percent), and taxes (16 percent).
A CNN poll on national priorities March 6 put immigration at 13 percent, fourth behind the economy (26 percent), health care (20 percent), and national security (16 percent).
And Q-poll respondents were asked their preferred option in dealing with “illegal immigrants” (allow them to stay and apply for citizenship; stay but not be allowed to apply for citizenship; be required to leave). The poll found that 63 percent favor stay and apply for citizenship, the most support for that option since the poll started asking the question five years ago.
Another Trump staple, a calling card at every rally, is repealing Obamacare.
A Monmouth University poll March 7 shows far more support (51-31) for keeping and improving Obamacare than for repeal and replace.
And the Q-poll reports that when asked whether Trump should support congressional efforts to repeal Obamacare, a majority of respondents (51-45) said “no.”
There’s more. Another (51-45) Q-poll majority opposes Trump’s call to increase defense spending by $54 billion. On cutting taxes for the wealthy, 74 percent said “no.” On removing regulations intended to combat climate change, 62 percent said “no.” And, as an aside, maybe you heard when Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell was asked whether Mexico would pay for the wall, he said, “Uh, no.”
What’s going on here?
“Well, we didn’t poll `what’s going on here,’ ” Q-Poll assistant director Tim Malloy tells me. But he notes “a campaign is different than the presidency” and says “it’s possible opinions of the president changed” since the campaign.
Think this is fake news about phony polls such as polls saying Hillary Clinton would win? I don’t. Neither can it be explained by the fact that Clinton got a couple million more votes than Trump (even if thanks to, cough, voter fraud).
“Something else is at play,” Malloy says.
I think it’s this: Issues were secondary to Trump’s win, a win fashioned on feelings, as in the guy is different, tough, successful, and able to rev a sluggish economy.
Now that he’s in, voters who were willing to back anyone outside Washington’s culture are focusing on what impacts their lives. So the question becomes: Does government listen to citizen wants -- or push policies that sound better in politics than in practice?