Progressive issues are popular issues

December 13, 2022 6:00 am
Voting rights activists and others gathering at the Midtown Center in Milwaukee on the first day of early voting in July, 2022. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Voting rights activists and others gathering at the Midtown Center in Milwaukee on the first day of early voting in July, 2022. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

When the latest Marquette Law School poll came out, everyone in the media was focusing on the gains that Ron DeSantis has been making versus Donald Trump in the Republican field.

But far more interesting to me were the poll numbers on the issues that people rank as most important, nationwide.

Here the startling thing was that many of these issues are progressive ones, and even Republicans are in favor of them.

For instance, 92% of respondents said that limiting the cost of prescription drugs was important, and 89% of Republicans agreed.

84% of all respondents said that passing new voting rights laws was important, and 72% of Republicans agreed.

78% of all respondents said that increasing federal aid to schools to boost teachers’ salaries was a good idea, and 61% of Republicans agreed.

75% of all respondents said that increasing tax credits for low-income workers was important, and yes, 65% of Republicans agreed.

73% of all respondents were also in favor of federal subsidies for child care, and 56% of Republicans agreed.

Only when it came to increasing taxes on those making more than $500,000 a year did a majority of Republicans object, but it was close.

74% of all respondents favored this, and 47% of Republicans agreed.

What these numbers tell me is that progressive issues are much more popular than they’ve been given credit for.

These numbers also remind me that we’ve got a serious problem with our democracy when We, the People, aren’t getting what we want from our elected officials.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, unfortunately. In a 2014 study of 1,800 policy issues over two decades, professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concluded: “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose … Even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Let me emphasize the key finding: “The majority does not rule.” Or, in other words, We, the People, don’t get what we want.

They don’t teach us that in seventh-grade civics or high school social studies (if those courses are even offered anymore)!

Why We, the People, don’t get what we want in our so-called democracy is a fundamental question to ask.

Part of the answer, as Gilens and Page pointed out, is the power of the “economic elites,” who exercise their influence through campaign spending and lobbying and a kind of extortion.

Part of the answer is due to gerrymandering, since our representatives aren’t truly representative when the maps are rigged.

And part of the answer is due to the decades-long campaign of cultural distraction (guns, abortion, racism, homophobia) waged by Republican strategists that persuades voters that these social obsessions are more crucial than getting affordable prescription drugs, for instance.

So the Marquette poll, while reassuring to progressives, is also a call to action to counter the culture war, to ban gerrymandering and to curb the big and dark money in our politics.

Only then will We, the People, start getting what we want.


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Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild

Prior to joining the Democracy Campaign at the start of 2015, Matt worked at The Progressive magazine for 32 years. For most of those, he was the editor and publisher of The Progressive.