Monday, February 01, 2016

Polarized Nation – Part I

Author’s Note: This will be the last article written by me as a resident of Boca Pointe. By the time you read this, my wife and I will have moved to our new home in Sinai Residences. However, to insure we maintain our 27-year community relationship, we have rejoined the Club, and as I had indicated in an earlier publication, I will continue to write this column for Viewpointe.

Polarized Nation

That was the headline of this column published almost exactly five years ago, in January 2011. The alternatively spelled headline mentioned in that article was “Pollarized Nation” since that play on words actually described several sets of controversial issues studied by various polling organizations. This is the second column in a row where serendipity bestowed its benevolence. Actually it is the Wall Street Journal that provided its cooperation. In its December 29, 2015, issue, the Journal published the results of a new mid-December (2015) Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, fortuitously titled, “Polarized Polling,” and as you will learn, appropriately so.

Reporting on the poll, Gerald Seib, the Journal’s Washington Bureau Chief, maintains “the most important feature of America’s political landscape is a deep and growing ideological divide.” He predicts, “This divide will be especially apparent early in the new year, when the most divided groups in America, the Republican and Democratic voters who show up for primary elections and caucuses, hold the keys to the presidential selection process.”

Few voters interested in the current primary process would disagree with Seib, however, it is not until the poll itself is reviewed that the degree of divide can be appreciated. Consider the numbers cited below as they are related to the list of poll issues. The recent polling results listed below were broken down based on the percentages of how Democrats and Republicans responded to a number of different issues. As you might expect, the results did expose a huge gap in the beliefs expressed by those two party groups. The list was organized into two segments, those issues favored by Republicans, and those endorsed by Democrats. The following are examples:

Republican Issues
  • Definition of Marriage : 69% of Republicans supported the traditional definition of marriage being between one man and one woman, whereas only 25% of Democrats agreed.
  • Supporters of the NRA: 59% of Republicans are supporters of the National Rifle Association compared to 11% of Democrats.
  • Right to Life : 57% of Republicans support the right to life movement, only 23% of Democrats do so.
  • Business Issues: 49% of Republicans are supporters of business issues, Democrats are at 26%.
  • Conservative Talk Radio : A surprisingly small 38% of Republicans enjoy listening to conservative talk radio, while a not surprisingly miniscule 5% of Democrats do so.
Democrat Issues
  • Gay Rights: While 63% of Democrats support the gay-rights movement, only 14% of Republicans agree.
  • Climate Change: Taking immediate action on climate change is supported by 62% of Democrats but approved by 13% of Republicans.
  • Environmentalism: 56% of Democrats consider themselves environmentalists compared to 15% of Republicans.
Seib sums up the polling results succinctly, writing, “These folks disagree, deeply, on an array of social issues, on the nation’s top priorities, and on what kind of leader they are seeking in the next president. Collectively, these voters are driving Republican candidates to the right and Democratic candidates to the left—and ensuring that the challenge of bringing the country together will be tougher after the election, regardless of who wins.”

You the reader can probably identify which party you associate with based on how you would vote on the above issues. I would guess that all of the current presidential candidates running for the nomination would agree with the above votes of his (or her) fellow party members. However, there are other more personal types of social issues that have not gained much attention in the candidate debates, nor in the media. However, they should, in my opinion, weigh, as Mr. Seib writes above, “on what kind of leader [voters] are seeking in the next president.”

One of the critical factors that a leader must display is the ability to absorb, analyze, and evaluate data. An important indicator of an individual’s qualification in this respect would be that candidate’s philosophical approach to various scientific issues. Do you believe that an ideological stance that contravenes or repudiates a widely accepted scientific belief should be given consideration when choosing a candidate for the presidency?

Here is an example: Florida legislators just passed an abortion bill stating that since a fetus experienced pain by the 20 th week, no abortion could take place after that time period. It was the 27 th state to pass such a bill. However, there is no evidence in any peer-reviewed research that supports that position.

In fact The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has stated unequivocally, “In the most extensive scientific literature review on fetal pain, JAMA concludes that fetal pain is not present until the third trimester [28 th week]. Scientists concur that the fetus is suspended in a sleep-like coma until the third trimester. In the most well-regarded, peer-reviewed, double-blind periodicals in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, the consensus is that fetal pain is a political construction rather than a scientific fact.” Is it your opinion that Governor Scott (and 27 other governors) signed this bill based on peer reviewed scientific evidence, or was it predicated on ideological (or religious) belief?

If a current candidate for the presidency, regardless of party affiliation, has, by his own statements, clearly indicated that he (or she) chooses to reject the scientific consensus on a given issue, would you overlook that type of thinking in your evaluation? In the event you don’t see any connection here, consider the substantial number of investigative news stories blaming our war in Iraq on exactly this type of high-level ideological mindset, although several stories attributed this compulsive behavior to one level below the presidency. (See this article.)

The consequences of this type of thinking can now be judged by public opinion on the results of that war. Polling conducted by CBS News/New York Times in mid 2014 found that when asked if the Iraq war was worth the cost of lives and money, 75% answered no. However, in this case party affiliation was not too different with 79% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans agreeing in the negative. This example of how one leader’s intransigent belief in an ideology that many CIA analysts disbelieved, created a disaster that lives on through today in what is approaching a global catastrophe. This experience might be contemplated when viewing current candidates’ decision-making philosophies.

Next month’s article will examine the various candidate’s (those still standing) opinions on several substantive subjects, providing you the reader with the ability to judge whether your favorite candidate practices “policy-based evidence,” or “evidence-based policy.” Policy-based evidence making is research done to support an already been decided upon policy. Evidence-based policy is public policy informed by rigorously established objective evidence. Past performance should tell the story.