Trying to think about American Public Opinion.

OK, I’ll grant you that “trying” isn’t the same thing as “succeeding.”

What do people think about military intervention in the Middle East?

Couple of things to think about.

First, the war in Iraq, much more than the war in Afghanistan, has put Americans off of military intervention. No, they don’t particularly want to have the reality shoved up their nose by outraged liberal moralists. (See: War Movies: American Sniper.) That doesn’t mean that they are willing to let the government off the leash again. President Obama’s disastrous intervention in Libya—“you set fire to it, then walk away while it burns” as one Baltimore cop told Jimmy McNulty in “The Wire”—just showed people that Democrats can’t be trusted any more than the Republicans. The advantage to air-strikes is that they might do a lot of damage—especially with good intelligence and targeting—but they aren’t likely to get many Americans killed. That’s what Americans are willing to tolerate.

Second, Republicans are ‘realists” who favor blowing up things. Look at John McCain. It’s his solution to everything that crosses his line of sight. God help us if he ever becomes Secretary of Health and Human Services. Democrats are toeing the party line and backing their president. No matter how much Obama’s actions resemble those of George W. Bush. Neither party is actually thinking. In contrast, Independents appear most skeptical of all. They’re used to dis-believing the bumper-stickers of both parties. Look at climate-change, where they fall squarely in the middle. The US—and everyone else—is likely to get a bad policy out-come from bad political in-puts. (See: Yemen Again.)


What do people think about opportunity in America?

Couple of things to think about here as well.

First, you can take the extreme views as the most unequivocal expression of the core beliefs of the two parties. Republicans believe that personal responsibility is a cure-all. Democrats believe that a paternalist state is a cure-all. Both probably are wrong, but neither is entirely wrong, just as neither is entirely right. One tricky part is where exactly to draw the line. Neither party seems to be making much effort to figure out a philosophy on this matter. Meanwhile, lots of middle-class Americans want to stick it to rich Americans while paying less in taxes themselves. A second issue is to wonder about the overlap between the extreme Republican view (let people swim for it) and the extreme Democrat view (nobody is responsible for their own actions): no discriminating public policy, just ineffective alternatives.

Second, lots of Americans believe that the game is rigged in favor of the well-off, including many well-off people (who ought to know). On the other hand, and this should disturb any “progressive person,” maybe a big chunk of the people who think that America is basically fair to people come from the poor people-of-color who don’t vote. Just as many well-off people appear to think the game is rigged in their favor, perhaps many poor people think that their own actions had a large role in their fate. What is both groups are correct?

More American Public Opinion.

What do Americans think about pornography? Generally, they’re against it. Only 35 percent of men regard watching porn is morally acceptable; only 23 percent of women regard it as morally acceptable. However, a big chunk of Americans beg to differ. Cell-phone porn—“intimate” photographs of self or other—can be found on the phones of 20 percent of Americans. The number is almost twice as high—39 percent—for those under 30.[1]

What do Americans think about the death penalty? In 1996, 78 percent of Americans supported the death penalty. By 2014, support had fallen, but polls differed considerably as to by how much. One poll found that it had dropped to 55 percent. Among whites, 63 percent supported the death penalty, while only 36 percent of African-Americans supported it. Another poll found that 65 percent supported the death penalty ‘for convicted murderers.” Among Republicans, 82 percent supported the death penalty, while 53 percent of Democrats supported it.[2] So, maybe this is another case of how you phrase the question.

What do people at the outer ends of the political spectrum think about opportunity in America? If you work hard, you can get ahead say 80 percent of conservative Republicans, while a mere 36 percent of liberal Democrats believe that to be true. Government programs can help reduce poverty say 62 percent of liberal Democrats, while only 21 percent of conservative Republicans believe this to be true.[3]

What do Americans think about vaccination? The vast majority—83 percent—think that vaccines are safe, versus only 9 percent who think that they are unsafe. However, young people who never saw someone walking in braces from the effects of polio or vomited all over the white dress shirt of the kid in front of him during a Christmas concert because chicken-pox picked a damned poor time to arrive are much more likely to doubt vaccination. Some 21 percent of adults under thirty believe that vaccination can cause autism. In contrast, only 11 percent of adults aged 45 to 64 and 3 percent of those over 65 believe this nonsense.[4]

What do Americans believe about climate change? Most of them believe that government should be doing something to fight it. Thus, 91 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Independents, and 51 percent of Republicans think that government should be taking action to counter climate change. That is, a majority of people of every political allegiance believe climate change to be a reality and one that can be countered by public policy.[5]

What do Americans think about military interventions in the Middle East? Back in Fall 2013, 67 percent of Americans supported President Obama’s climb-down over air strikes against the Assad regime after it had been alleged that the government had used chemical weapons against rebels. The Russians then brokered a deal to get rid of Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons. Scarcely a third—37 percent—favored launching air strikes if the Syrians reneged on that deal. A year later, 76 percent supported air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but 61 percent opposed sending ground forces even though 70 percent thought that ISIS had the means to attack the United States itself. The legacy of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is evident: only 35 percent of the military veterans of those wars believe that both were worth fighting.[6]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 21 March 2014, p. 17; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 19 September 2014, p. 19.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 April 2014, p. 15; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 16 May 2014, p. 19.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 March 2014, p. 19.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 13 February 2015, p. 15; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 20 February 2015, p. 19.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 13 February 2015, p. 15.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 September 2013, p. 17; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 April 2014, p. 15; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 19 September 2014, p. 19.