Poll: Americans’ wish list for new Congress shows frustration with political systems

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s latest Mood of the Nation poll asked Americans which law they would choose, in their own words, if they could enact a law at the start of the new Congress. The findings show that Americans are eager for political and electoral reform, particularly by instituting term limits.

Survey director Eric Plutzer said: “I think it speaks volumes that term limits and similar reforms are the first things that come to so many people’s minds. Many Americans are prioritizing fixing the system over any particular policy that might contribute to security, freedom, equality, or prosperity. This is a symptom of deep frustration with the government and how it has worked, or not, lately.”

Over a quarter of Americans are eager for political or electoral reform

As part of the latest poll, fielded in mid-November, respondents were asked what law they would enact if given a magic wand that would automatically make it into US law at the start of the new 118th Congress. Responses were recorded verbatim, and the APM Research Lab coded those responses into broader categories.

More than a quarter of respondents (28%) provided an answer related to political or electoral reform. We have combined political and electoral reform responses as both seek to change the mechanics by which our government works. Even when split into two separate categories, political reform remains the frontrunner with nearly one in five Americans (18.5%) wanting some sort of political reform.

In addition to political or electoral reform, Americans also wanted to enact laws related to justice (9.5%), equal rights (8.5%), abortion (7.9%), and income or taxation ( 7.7%), among others.

Overhauling the political system and establishing term limits are the most common suggestions for political or electoral reform

What exactly do Americans mean by political or electoral reform?

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Of those who gave an answer that fell within the scope of political or electoral reform, 21 percent felt that some sort of change to our political system was needed to overcome dissatisfaction with America’s two-party system.

“Change to Parliamentary Democracy and New Constitution”.
– 66-year-old white male from North Dakota, Independent

“Eliminate the political labels that currently define our government representatives, especially the parties of ‘Democrat’ and ‘Republican.’ These labels have become destructive…”
– 44-year-old white female from Missouri, Independent

Some respondents expressed a desire to eliminate political parties or political labels currently in use, such as a 55-year-old white woman from Indiana, a Republican, who wanted “the abolition of the party system”. While a handful of others, like this 35-year-old black Pennsylvanian, a Democrat, suggested that “making political representation proportional” would lead to much-needed political reform.

19 percent of those who gave an answer falling under political or electoral reform wanted to enact a law establishing term limits for those who hold political office. Some respondents simply said “term limits” without specifying a particular office, while others specified term limits for members of Congress. Some wanted legislation that would establish term limits for Supreme Court justices, and a subset of respondents, such as this 43-year-old white man from Florida, an independent, called for “Term Limits for Every Political Office.”

“Term limits and benefits for the House and Senate”.
– 54-year-old Black female from Tennessee, Republican

Those who wished to enact laws establishing term limits came from across the political spectrum and a range of other demographics.

Finally, changing campaign finance laws was the third most popular type of suggestion related to political and electoral reform. Respondents frequently cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC as the target of their legislative proposal. Other interviewees, while not mentioning Citizens United, said there should be a law that states that elections are only publicly funded.

Americans who would enact legislation regarding political and electoral reform are in general much more likely to identify as male, white, and Republican, to have higher levels of education and higher household incomes. The largest of these differences are found by gender, race, and household income, as shown in the graph.

Abortion, equal rights, and health care legislation favored by larger proportions of women, black Americans, and poorer Americans, respectively

Although smaller percentages of Americans overall said they would enact abortion, equal rights, or health care laws than policy reform, some patterns are emerging that reveal that these issues are particularly salient among certain demographics, perhaps a due to the need to address more immediate needs than changing the political system.

Eight percent of Americans cited abortion as the centerpiece of their legislative desires. The overwhelming majority of Americans who would enact an abortion law, four out of five, said it would legalize access to abortion nationwide, while one in five said they would outlaw abortion under any circumstances.

Women, in particular, were significantly more likely than men to say they would enact abortion-related legislation (14% vs. 2%). Interestingly, all of the men who answered about abortion were in favor of legalizing abortion.

The specific form of abortion responses varied. At least seven respondents mentioned their desire to “codify Roe v. Wade.” Some respondents emphasized bodily autonomy at the root of their legal protection of abortion access. Several people felt that abortion should be legally accessible in all cases. However, other respondents linked abortion to broader health care concerns.

“Free Health Care for All (Abortion is Health Care).”
—37-year-old white female respondent from Washington, Democrat

“Very accessible/encouraged birth control/abortion/reproductive care.”
—28-year-old white female respondent from Kansas, Democrat

Those who wanted to institute a nationwide abortion ban mostly focused on that. But a 42-year-old Texas woman, a Democrat, said she “would overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw some guns.” And another interviewee underlined “no kind of abortion, ever, that we value all forms of life. May we never begin to devalue life in infants, in the elderly, in different people.

There were also significant differences in response rates based on household income. As household income levels rise, a slightly higher percentage of Americans point to abortion policy as the law of choice. This is especially true for those with household incomes of $100,000 or more.

Nearly nine percent of Americans prioritized enactment of legislation that would grant equal rights to marginalized groups. But there are significant differences in response rate when it comes to race, ethnicity, and political leaning.

One in five Black Americans said they would enact equal rights legislation, and just over one in 10 Latinos would do the same. Only seven percent of white Americans, however, prioritized equal rights legislation.

There is also a significant political difference when it comes to those who suggest an equal rights bill. Democrats (15 percent) were far more likely than political independents (5 percent) or Republicans (2 percent) to say they would enact equal rights legislation. This difference in political leanings may also be influenced by race, as a higher percentage of Republicans identify as white.

Many interviewees said they would enact a law guaranteeing “equal rights for all”. Others have sought to promote equal rights especially regarding racism, gender equity or marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights. One respondent specifically mentioned the enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment.

“That everyone is treated equally, regardless of gender, race or beliefs.”
– 35-year-old Hispanic female from Idaho, Democrat

“Equal opportunities, education, trades, careers, housing”.
– 47-year-old black man from New Jersey, Independent

Comparatively speaking, health care legislation was among the least frequently cited categories, with only 6% of Americans giving a health care related answer. But there is a significant difference in response rate when analyzed by household income: Those with lower household incomes were more likely to say they would enact a law on access to health care than those with higher household incomes. high.

12% of Americans with an annual household income of less than $30,000, double the overall rate, prioritized access to health care. That percentage drops to 7% for those with household incomes between $30,000 and $59,999, 4% for those with household incomes between $60,000 and $99,999, and 2% for those with household incomes over $100,000. .

Among those with household incomes under $30,000 who would enact health care legislation, one said they would do it so “that we’ll never again be forced to pay a health insurance mandate.” But everyone else advocated some form of universal health care, such as: “Medicare for all!!”, “that all citizens have health insurance regardless of income”, and “one-size-fits-all health care”.

For more detailed investigation findings and methods and disclosures, see the full report from APM Research Lab.

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