Featured in The Hill
By Pete Brodnitz and Doug Thornell
With a very bitter and nasty election season behind us, it may feel as if conflict and partisan divisiveness are the new normal in Washington and beyond. But taking a closer look, this isn’t a simple story about Democrats and Republicans being unable to agree. Instead, the schism reaches between those living inside of Washington and those living hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. The truth is that if you look at issues beyond the Beltway’s gridlock, Americans agree that there are opportunities for substantial progress on issues ranging from immigration, to taxes, to privacy.
Our first Beyond the Beltway Insights Initiative survey found that outside of Washington there is plenty of room to find common ground. Voters, regardless of ideology, want their leaders in Washington to focus like a laser beam on the economy, which remains the top problem facing the country.
From our poll, we found several actions Congress could take that voters believe would be helpful to them and their families. These include middle class tax cuts, closing tax loopholes, ensuring fair pay for women, modifying the corporate tax rate to make it competitive with other countries, and increasing funding for roads and bridges. Cutting middle class taxes was the most popular action, in part because it addresses in a real way the concern so many families feel today with making ends meet. No doubt, these are big complex issues, but our poll shows that whichever party embraces this economic agenda will benefit politically with voters across the country.
Another key area of agreement among voters focused on immigration reform. While leaders in Washington continue to clash over this issue, outside of the beltway, most voters (69 percent) want Congress to focus on passing an immigration bill rather than trying to reverse President Obama’s executive order. Among political independents, a key voting bloc, this position was supported by 72 percent of voters.
In contrast to the areas of consensus on some key policy issues, there were stark divides when it came to voters’ views of our legal system. 70 percent of white voters believe the grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in Ferguson and Staten Island are isolated incidents. Yet over 80 percent of African Americans stated that these recent events are evidence that the system treats African Americans differently than white Americans. African-Americans also rated racism as the top problem facing the country. If Democrats want to maintain their strong support of African-Americans and if Republicans want to make inroads within this demographic, both parties would be wise not to ignore the issue of race in America.
Our polling also looked at several issues that may not be on the front page every day, but still find broad agreement among Americans outside of Washington.
When we asked about climate change, a majority of voters believed that climate change is happening, and agreed that Congress should act on several measures designed to reduce the threat of global climate change. There was strong support for negotiating agreements with other countries that would encourage them to reduce their greenhouse gas outputs if America did as well.
We also found that as technology takes up more of the conversation in Washington, voters agree with certain protections that relate to their everyday lives. A majority of voters support the right to privacy when it comes to users’ encrypted data on mobile devices. 56 percent of voters side with the decision by technology companies, like Apple and Google, to adopt encryption methods that prevent them from providing law enforcement with users’ personal data in the event of a subpoena.
Given the number of areas where the public would support congressional action, it’s not surprising that the same public holds Washington leaders in such low regard for their inability to pass legislation that moves the country forward. What is clear from our findings is that the American people outside of the beltway want to find solutions to these issues. For the new Congress and the current Administration this presents a real opportunity to get things done. The question is, will they make the most of it?
The results from this Beyond the Beltway Insights Initiative is just the first in a planned series. To see and download a full report please go to: http://beyondthebeltwayinsights.com/. For more facts and findings follow us on Twitter: @Beyond_Beltway
Thornell is a senior vice president at SKDKnickerbocker and Brodnitz is a partner at the Benenson Strategy Group. The two firms conducting the survey.