Congress Doesn’t Share Our Interests

by Dave Schuler on February 25, 2014

I found the graph above from the Gallup organization (hat tip: The American Interest) on Americans’ priorities on various public policy issues very interesting. Perhaps a little explanation is in order. The graph is divided two ways: left to right and top to bottom. The farther something is to the right in the graph the more important people think it is. The farther down something is in the graph the more satisified people are with things as they are. Consequently, people are pretty satisifed and/or disinterested in issues in the lower left hand corner and dissatisfied and/or interested in issues in the upper right hand corner.

The issue about which people are most dissatisfied and think is the highest priority is the economy. The issues that people think aren’t particularly important and/or are satisfied with aren’t quite as clear-cut: those are either the “acceptance of gays and lesbians” or “race relations” depending on whether you give more weight to dissatisfaction or priority. However, both of those issues plus abortion, environment, and energy policy are in the low dissatisfaction/low priority quadrant while poverty and homelessness, public education, federal taxes, affordable healthcare, and Social Security and Medicare round out the high dissatisfaction/high priority quadrant.

Note that the bulk of government spending is pretty well represented in the high dissatisfaction/high priority quadrant. “Military”, interestingly, is in the high priority/low dissatisfaction quadrant which I would interpret as a belief that the issue is being handled about right.

I think there are confounding factors in this kind of analysis. Some people are highly interested in issues that most people aren’t particularly interested in one way or another. It seems to me that could skew the results. Additionally, are priority and satisfaction really independent variables? I would think that the less satisfied one is with something would grant priority to an issue it might otherwise not have. Finally, my observation is that some people need permission before they feel comfortable about expressing dissatisfaction or interest in an issue. For those people leaders have a profound influence and that’s why public opinion can sometimes turn on a dime.

I’m not sure how I’d respond if I had to select from among the issues in Gallup’s list. I think I’d rate the economy as the highest issue with which I’m the least satisfied followed by affordable healthcare, world affairs, immigration, and energy policy. However, I tend to see many of the issues as interconnected, e.g. I think that an improved economy would go a long way to fixing the problems with issues I’d prioritize other than, perhaps, affordable healthcare. So, for example, I think improving the economy and getting some control over immigration would go a long way to improving race relations or, at least, bring our issues with race relations into sharper relief. I also think that a more energy-friendly energy policy would go a long way towards improving our economy.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw February 25, 2014 at 9:54 am

Interesting how government surveillance is on the opposite corner from crime and terrorism. Surveillance is supposed to be in service of these other issues, so the population either doubts it is necessary or is unwilling to face its own hypocrisy.

... February 25, 2014 at 10:18 am

Hmm, it’s not clear, but I think I may have contributed to that poll. (I’m part of the Gallup Panel group of pollees now. Woo hoo, the closest thing to real influence a poor person can get!)

jan February 25, 2014 at 11:02 am

Is it really ‘Congress’ who doesn’t share our interests, or is it more the political philosophy, being generated from the top down — the WH — which is at odds with the people’s interest?

After all, who is promoting most of those low priority issues such as the environmental, immigration, gun control ones? Who is continuously stirring up negativity in race relations, condemning voter ID laws that the majority of people want, and against revisiting the needs for affirmative action policies or the Voters Rights Act? Who has short-term, tepid programs for economical revival and job growth, such as cash-for-clunkers and now a miniscule minimum wage gesture, through a divisive EO, while hamstringing business and the larger economy with EPA rules and regs that discourage growth and raises the cost of energy?

In CA, who has refused to employ real water management in a state always at the ready to revert back to a desert? Instead of building needed reservoirs, over the years, or putting agricultural needs over those of a bait fish, why haven’t we been more diligent in water conservation/collection, loosening up environmental controls, distributing water to the fields instead of just letting it run out into the ocean? Even, at this late date, the CA drought is being exploited to tie into the WH’s global warming verbiage, rather than addressing the real etiology of the problems here.

Basically, it’s politics that prevail, not real problem-solving. And, that kind of behavior is especially prevalent in the way the current heads of government deploy their governance and pursue the creation of their domestic and foreign agendas.

Dave Schuler February 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I think you overestimate the White House’s influence, Jan. We have a powerful Congress and a relatively weak executive. Congressional weakness is studied and strategic.

There’s a Washington consensus on a whole range of issues including the military, security, trade, debt, economic policy, the environment, energy, and immigration that’s nearly the opposite of the popular consensus. Positions shared by regular members of both parties. One of the reasons that Tea Party-aligned Republicans are catching so much flak is that they frequently buck the Washington consensus.

TastyBits February 25, 2014 at 1:16 pm


I suspect few of the environmental issues have anything to do with the environment. These issues are being used as cover. Honestly, the tree huggers, dope smokers, and hollywood liberals do not have enough money needed to keep these organizations going.

Something is going on in the San Joaquin Valley, and it ain’t about a fish. It is either a land grab or water rights, but you are more familiar with the area.

Dave Schuler February 25, 2014 at 1:23 pm

My general rule of thumb is that legislators want to keep their jobs and are afraid of their constituents. The best strategy for dealing with that is to do nothing. If you can blame it on your opponents, all the better.

michael reynolds February 25, 2014 at 2:49 pm


Who is continuously stirring up negativity in race relations,

The wanna-be governor of Texas is campaigning with a man who called Mr. Obama a “Subhuman mongrel.”

So, I need you to clear something up for me. Are you a complete idiot or just completely dishonest? I can’t tell. But it’s either A or B.

michael reynolds February 25, 2014 at 2:55 pm

As for the graph, it’s almost entirely meaningless. In a country that is 80% majority white is it a shock that race is a low priority? My guess is it’s a higher priority with the people affected. Ditto gay issues. You might as well do a poll of billionaires and ask whether they’re concerned about economic inequality.

On other issues, like education, all you’re seeing is a reflection of focus by scare story. People know they “should” care a lot about education, and all they ever hear is that the system is broken, so what choice do they have but to list it as high concern and high dissatisfaction?

The military answer is just a “support our troops” reflex. “Affordable healthcare” is just a buzz word. Just really a pointless poll.

Dave Schuler February 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I think I’d distinguish between “meaningless” and “to be taken with a grain of salt”. There are variations in degrees of importance from “meaningless” to “vital” and all points in between. I don’t think it’s meaningless. It’s a snapshot. Interesting, as I said in the body of the post, especially in the context of Congressional activity.

Just to point out what should be obvious, in 30 years a majority of Americans will be white. In 50 years a majority of Americans will still be white, if only because we redefine what “white” means. 150 years ago my mom wouldn’t have been considered white—she was mostly Irish. A century ago (or maybe a little over) you wouldn’t have been considered white. Ditto with my wife (who’s a blue-eyed blonde) because of her Italian ancestry. Today all three of us are obviously white.

I think the sexual preference issue is different. Do you think that a lot more people will be homosexual in 10, 20, or 50 years than now? I don’t. Unless we start determining policies based on intensity of interest (rather than how many people are interested) that means that the policy effect probably won’t be much different, either. We’re more accepting of sexual preference differences now than we were 50 years ago and it’s possible that we’ll be even more accepting 50 years from now, probably all good things. But I don’t think it will make people that much more intensely interested in acceptance of sexual preference differences.

It would be interesting to see how the answers break down by race and gender but, unfortunately, that data doesn’t seem to be available.

jan February 25, 2014 at 3:58 pm

The wanna-be governor of Texas is campaigning with a man who called Mr. Obama a “Subhuman mongrel.”

So, I need you to clear something up for me. Are you a complete idiot or just completely dishonest? I can’t tell. But it’s either A or B.


I didn’t know Texas was in this conversation. Nor, did I realize one stupid remark, from a conservative, loud-mouth extremist, can taint and then negatively slant the color blindness achieved in this country — all with one uncouth utterance.

In fact, I think that A or B question merits more of an answer from you, especially since you tend to be an extremist yourself, exploiting one man’s abrasive language to conveniently express your own myopic and dysfunctional racial POV.

PD Shaw February 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm

About the same time as the referenced poll, Gallupasked what issues are most important for the President to deal with. Here is the party breakdown, including leaners:

Bipartisan priorities: economy, education, and healthcare policy (note that this matches Dave’s chart).

Democratic priorities: the distribution of income and wealth, poverty and homelessness, Social Security and Medicare, and the environment. (this might overstate things since a majority of Republicans found poverty and homelessness, Social Security and Medicare as important issues, just not as strongly as Dems.)

Republican priorities: the military and national defense, and terrorism. (also overstates things since a majority of Democrats found both of these to be important issues, just not as strong as the Dems)

Bipartisan disinterest: Race relations, gay and lesbian policies, abortion and government surveillance.

PD Shaw February 25, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I should have written President and Congress should deal with.

The context of the question is government policy, so we don’t know whether the underlying issue is important or not. It may be that some of these issues are not seen as having an effective government response. Conversely, nearly everybody things the government can do something to improve the economy.

jan February 25, 2014 at 6:19 pm

That was a noteworthy breakdown of the polls, according to political demographics, PD. While it indicates a decidedly different emphasis placed on some issues, between Rs and Ds, there is also significant crossover and cohesion of topics of interest selected between the parties, as well.

The bipartisan priorities of education, the economy and healthcare seem to be a grouping showing paramount and universal interest among people. What divides people, though, is not the endgame, but rather the means to achieve it.

For instance R’s seem more drawn to academic innovative, seeking different educational models which are less administratively run and more responsive to the needs and feedback of students and parents, often on a state-by-state basis. The dems stick with union-run schools — period.

The R’s claim to support a smaller business-friendly government having a less onerous, regulation-oriented environment in which to grow the economy and jobs — a hands-up, long term, window of opportunity ideal. The dems, however, are for ongoing federal government expansion, regulatory control over everything, keeping people happy via social program hand-outs and augmentation.

Finally, healthcare is approached by R’s through free market exercises: employing a broader range of HC policies freely chosen by people for their own individual circumstances; healthcare savings accounts: one that is more consumer friendly and consumer controlled; generating competition in the HC insurance market; and providing a reliable safety net for those who need it. The dems simply want a government-run HC system.

A common thread running through the democratic vision for America is to have everything funneled, first and foremost, through a big government filter, evolving literally into a failsafe, “big brother” society. The R’s thesis of governing is far less collective-oriented, based more on individualism, free-spirited growth, cultivating inclinations inwardly to live the life you want, including the right to fail.

I personally don’t see how the twains of these two politically fueled mind sets can easily meet…….

Dave Schuler February 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm

The dems simply want a government-run HC system.

Do you have any evidence of that? I see practically no evidence of an appetite on either party’s part for an English or Canadian-style public health system. There’s a certain amount of tepid verbal support for a single payer system but that’s a far cry from a “government-run HC system”.

I think quite to the contrary that the PPACA is a pretty good measure of the temperature of the present Democratic caucus—what they want is a neoliberal mish-mash with lots of opportunities for doling out favors to cronies and lots of jobs for federal regulators.

Finally, healthcare is approached by R’s through free market exercises:

That’s something else for which I see practically no evidence. Have the House Republicans submitted any bills calling for the repeal of Medicare? Medicaid? The VA? An abandoning of medical licensing? Termination of patents? A free market is a free market. What Republicans are calling for isn’t a free market system. It’s an oligopsony with meaningless free market trappings.

The Ryan plan was a plan for eroding Medicare over time that didn’t deal with the problems of rising costs with any mechanism other than wishful thinking. There’s a reason we have a Medicare system: healthcare prices are too darned high and without subsidies too many old people become impoverished trying to pay their healthcare bills.

jan February 25, 2014 at 7:33 pm

The dems have long expressed a wish for a HC single payer system (Reid recently and Obama earlier), which I simplistically relayed as “government-run,” and is how I see such a plan to be.

I agree that the actions of the R’s are not necessarily ‘free market.’ It’s mainly the words which leave a refreshing impression of free market inclinations and possibilities. However, again, the only choices we have in selecting what kind of government we want is through two very flawed parties, who oftentimes only give good lip service. I like the free market approach, though, versus handing all oversight of our daily lives over to government entities, who are often dumber than dumb. So, that’s why I more often than not rally around the worded text of R’s rather than those delivered by the dems — whose actions (they’re the ones in power now) and words are undesirable to me. However, if our current HC fiasco, economy, foreign escapades etc. were on the laundry list of accomplishment under a R presidency, it would be the Rs I would be giving heat. It’s the implementation of bad policies and the non- implemetation of good ones that fry my wires. And, so far the dem approach has been anything but smart or useful in forming long term solutions, here or abroad.

“Have the House Republicans submitted any bills calling for the repeal of Medicare? Medicaid? The VA? An abandoning of medical licensing? Termination of patents? A free market is a free market. What Republicans are calling for isn’t a free market system. It’s an oligopsony with meaningless free market trappings.”

If you are discussing the current House Republicans, what can they do? There have been various appropriation bills sent to the Senate which have gone nowhere. They passed an earlier budget that was permanently tabled, without discussion. It wasn’t until the late 2013 Murray-Ryan Budget Agreement was struck that there was such a thing as a formal budget managing our economic path, for years! What bills then could the republican-led House possibly formulate, addressing real reforms, that the dems couldn’t stop in the Senate or by the veto pen of the POTUS? It’s called being in the Minority Party with only minority power at hand. All R’s can do is dissent and slow up, with even this constitutionally held power being circumvented by the president’s constant threat of EOs when opposition is encountered by him.

As for repealing Medicare/medicaid, I don’t think there is any desire to do so by anyone. However, there have been twinges of reform expressed, as you said by Ryan. His plan was just that, a plan, yet to be filled out by opposing viewpoints or in dept discussions. Somehow, people, though, have taken his legislative format as some kind of whole clothe that would not have any alternations — nothing subtracted, added or reconstructed around his ideas. When has that ever happened — legislation passed in a vacuum, unilaterally? Oh wait, yes, the PPACA was such an example!

Dave Schuler February 25, 2014 at 7:41 pm

As for repealing Medicare/medicaid, I don’t think there is any desire to do so by anyone.

Government spending in its various forms accounts for between 60% and 70% of all healthcare spending. You can’t have a market system in healthcare without ending government’s spending on healthcare and most of that is Medicare and Medicaid.

I think you’re paying too much attention to the press releases and not enough to what the parties are actually doing. Democrats aren’t pushing government-run healthcare (although some Democrats are) and Republicans aren’t pushing a free market in healthcare (although some Republicans are).

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