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Democracy For The Southern Adirondack/Tricounty Area
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
What Americans Really Believe
Here's something really encouraging that recently came to our attention: Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, co-authored a study with his daughter Anna, of what Americans really believe. This was sponsored by Public Interest Projects and comes from the Liberal Oasis website: our thanks to LO. Click to the link above to get to Liberal Oasis and a link to the raw data.

"It is an immensely important document showing how the public is quite ready to hear arguments for responsive government and fair, adequate taxation.

The Greenbergs conclude:

...we find powerful evidence that Americans believe that government has a central role to play in ensuring equal opportunity for all, in providing the services that create the conditions that make equal opportunity possible and that people see their taxes as a contribution to this collective endeavor."

And it is powerful evidence. The Greenbergs asked poll respondents if “government should be responsible for” various societal goals. Here are some of the responses. Percentages combine those saying “strongly responsible” and “somewhat responsible”:

-- Protecting the environment: 93% (69% strongly)
-- Keeping tabs on and regulating big corporations and powerful individuals who may abuse their position and hurt others in society: 92% (71% strongly)
-- Ensuring equal opportunity for everyone: 88% (67% strongly)
-- Guaranteeing a quality public education 87% (70% strongly)
-- Guaranteeing all have health care insurance: 79% (60% strongly)
-- Making sure no one lives in poverty: 76% (49% strongly)
-- Helping people not fall back when they face a crisis, become unemployed or face big health care, college costs or retirement costs: 75% (40% strongly)

But it's one thing for people to want their government to do stuff. It's another to be willing to pay for it.

Do people accept that their government can’t realize these goals unless they contribute tax dollars?


The Greenbergs asked if people agreed with the following statements about taxes. Again, percentages combine those saying “strongly” and “somewhat” agree.

-- I don’t mind paying taxes because my taxes contribute to making sure we have public schools, clean streets, public safety and a national defense and a cleaner environment: 84% (61% strongly)

-- I don't mind paying takes because my taxes are part of my contribution to society as a citizen of the United States: 81% (56% strongly)

-- I don't mind paying taxes because I want government to play a strong role in helping people, when in need: 76% (46% strongly)

-- I don't mind paying taxes because it is my contribution to make sure our government helps create opportunities and keeps the economy growing: 75% (43% strongly)

Furthermore, a mere 38% say that “I don’t like paying taxes because government spends too much money on welfare and other handouts”.

Even less, 28%, say “I don’t like paying taxes because the government doesn’t do anything for people like me”.

So if it is the case that people want their government to be actively solving problems, and don’t mind paying taxes to that end, what is it that allows the GOP to succeed?

Because people have been skeptical that their government will spend their money wisely.

For example, in the Greenbergs’ survey, 65% agreed with the statement: “I don’t like paying taxes because the government is too wasteful and inefficient”.

This is not a cry for less government, but a cry for better government.

(Do note though, as has, that the sense that government is inherently wasteful and inefficient has been waning, according to the Pew poll.)

Yet the Dems haven’t been making any case for government, while the GOP has a relatively easy time playing on people’s skepticism of governmental effectiveness. But the numbers clearly show that the Dems have no reason to hide their core beliefs about the role of government. And the opportunity is ripe, during this Social Security battle, to make it crystal clear to the public which party wants their government to work for them, and which party wants the government to not work at all."

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