There is widespread recognition among politicians and pundits that Americans are sharply divided by party on virtually all of the big questions facing our country.
Everyone knows this is just the way things are, and it’s why we have gridlock in Congress.
But here’s one thing: That story is not true.
In fact, Americans overwhelmingly agree on a wide range of issues. They want policies to make the economy more fair and hold corporate executives accountable. They want stronger environmental and consumer protections. And they want to fix our political system so that it serves the interest of all, not just Big Money donors. These aren’t close issues for Americans; actually, what’s surprising is the degree of national consensus.
"The problem isn’t that Americans don’t agree. The problem is that the corporate class doesn’t agree with this agenda, and that class dominates our politics."
The problem isn’t that Americans don’t agree. The problem is that the corporate class doesn’t agree with this agenda, and that class dominates our politics.
Because this reality runs so counter to the dominant media story, it’s worth diving into the numbers to get a sense of the vast divide between conventional wisdom and empirical data.
83 percent of Americans agree and nearly 60 percent “strongly” agree that “the rules of the economy matter and the top 1 percent have used their influence to shape the rules of the economy to their advantage.” Americans believe that policies enacted since the Great Recession have benefited Wall Street, big corporations and the wealthy, but not poor and middle class people.
Three quarters of Americans favor a steep rise in the minimum wage, including a majority of Republicans.
By margins of about 2-1, Americans oppose corporate trade deals like the TransPacific Partnership. Americans believe such deals destroy more jobs than they create by a 3-1 margin.
Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, favor breaking up the big banks. Over nine in ten voters agree that it is important to regulate financial services and products to make sure they are fair for consumers, and four-fifths say Wall Street financial companies should be held accountable with tougher rules and enforcement for the practices that caused the financial crisis. By nearly a 3-1 margin, voters want to see more, not less, oversight and regulation of financial companies.
Four out of five voters, including three quarters of Republicans, want to expand Social Security benefits. Note: not just maintain, but expand, Social Security benefits.
Americans want to close corporate and other tax loopholes and make the rich pay more in taxes. Two-thirds of Americans believe that corporations pay too little in taxes. By a three-to-one margin, Americans want to close tax loopholes that allow speculators and people who make money from short-term trades to pay less taxes on profits than full time workers pay on their income or wages.
Across the country, three quarters of voters want to maintain or strengthen environmental standards. They support the administration’s Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a 2-1 margin. Three quarters of Americans, including a majority of Americans, favor stricter limits on smog.
Americans want tough consumer protections, too.
Nine-in-ten Americans want food containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled; only 6 percent oppose mandatory labeling. More than nine in ten want meat labeled with its country of origin.
Eighty-three percent of Americans, including three quarters of Republicans, favor empowering Medicare to negotiate drug prices. In fact, Republican voters say that cutting drug prices is a bigger priority for them than repealing Obamacare.
In general, astounding majorities of Americans want to restrain corporate power. Eighty-six percent believe corporations have too much political power. Eight-seven percent of voters agree that we need increased enforcement of laws and regulations, including 89 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Independents.
"It’s plain enough that public opinion is not enough. We need massive public mobilization, to tear down the political barriers that stand in the way of winning the policies Americans support but plutocrats oppose."
So, for those who care to look at the data, it’s plain enough what Americans want.
But we’re not getting it.
That’s because of the political power problem. Americans know this, too, and they want far-reaching solutions. “With near unanimity,” reports the New York Times, “the public thinks the country’s campaign finance system needs significant changes.” Nine in ten want to get rid of secret money in elections. More than three quarters want to replace super-rich funding of elections with a system that relies on small donors and matching public funds. As ThinkProgress notes, more Americans believe in witches and ghosts than support Citizens United (no offense to witches intended). There is three-to-one support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
It’s plain enough that public opinion is not enough. We need massive public mobilization, to tear down the political barriers that stand in the way of winning the policies Americans support but plutocrats oppose.
That effort begins now. On Monday, having marched from Philadelphia, Democracy Spring protesters will kick off a week of civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. to demand restoration of our democracy. Then comes the Democracy Awakening mobilization in Washington, D.C., April 16-18, including a major rally and march on Sunday, April 17.
If we ever have hope of converting public opinion into public policy, we have to hit the streets and build a movement. Now.