Public Agenda
On the Agenda The Public Agenda Blog

04.17 The Common Core – Why Isn't Public Support More Robust?

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Jean Johnson

Bill Gates and the U.S. Army back it, along with a whole slew of educational associations, business leaders and think tanks. And despite the partisanship we often see in politics today, the development and adoption of the new, voluntary Common Core learning standards in literacy and math got off to an amazing start. Set in motion in 2009 by an alliance of Republican and Democratic governors, Common Core standards were quickly adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.


Cyrus McCrimmon/ Denver Post/ Getty Images

So how did an idea that started off with such impressive support become so controversial?

A wide range of critics, including some parents, teachers, education experts, Tea Party activists and liberal groups have begun pushing back against the Common Core — or at least the way it’s being implemented. One state, Indiana, has already dropped the standards, and other states are considering doing so as well.

In surveys, most people seem open to the general idea of national standards and guidelines for learning. A 2010 study from Public Agenda showed that about 8 in 10 parents see having national standards in math and science as helpful. A new survey from the education reform group Achieve shows that 69 percent of voters support implementation of Common Core when presented with a description of it. And support is even stronger among African-Americans, Hispanics, and "public school moms."

But the Achieve study also exposes a fault line. Just 16 percent of voters have read or heard "a lot" about the Common Core; and, among those who have, about 4 in 10 oppose it. Analysts at Achieve say the growing controversy is "leaving a more negative 'impression' among voters." Surveys from Education Next-Harvard PEPG showed that the percent of people opposed to the Core nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013.

A closer look at public and parent thinking suggests some additional reasons why the Common Core hasn’t been attracting more robust support. Consider:


Click to read more | Comment

03.11 Do Americans Really Loathe The Federal Government?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 | Jean Johnson

What does it mean when fewer than 1 in 5 Americans say they are satisfied with the federal government? Over the last few years, survey researchers have fielded dozens of questions that seem to show the public’s contempt for the federal government.

In a Pew poll last year, just 12 percent of Americans said they were “basically content” with the federal government, while 30 percent were angry about it, and 55 percent were frustrated. Just 19 percent of the public says it trusts the government in Washington to do what is right most of the time. It’s a stunning number. When Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy were in office, that number was above 70 percent.

But if so many Americans are so dismissive of government, then why were so many of us appalled by the government shutdown last fall? Is this just further proof that Americans will happily indulge in anti-government rhetoric, but that they really like government and what it does for them? Or are there more complex and consequential questions lying beneath the surface—questions that deserve much more careful analysis and discussion?

Here is a quick tour of some of what lies beneath.


Click to read more | Comment

01.16 Tough Choices on Health Care – Ready or Not, Here They Come

Thursday, January 16th, 2014 | Jean Johnson


How many experts view rising health care costs.
(Via IMDB, Copyright 1981 - Lucasfilm, Ltd.)

Remember Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, running away from an enormous boulder, glancing over his shoulder, racing to avoid being crushed? For the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), health care is the boulder that could devastate the federal budget if we can’t figure out better ways to contain rising costs. Many experts see this issue as one of, if not the, most urgent budgetary threats we face.

The federal government spent roughly a trillion dollars on health care in 2013, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. With an aging population, more of us will be on Medicare. Due to The Affordable Care Act (ACA), more people are being covered by Medicaid and receiving government subsidies to buy their own insurance. According to the CBO, rising health care costs will "pose a challenge not only for the federal government’s two major health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid, but also for state and local governments, businesses, and households."

There has been some good news lately -- health care costs haven’t been rising as quickly as in the past, and there’s vigorous debate among policy wonks over why this is happening and whether costs could start rising more quickly again. The White House Council of Economic Advisors, for one, believes that some reforms in the ACA are helping slow the growth in costs.

But health care costs are still rising -- by 3.7 percent in 2012.

Polls repeatedly show broad support for "reducing health care costs," and on the face of it, people do seem to grasp that the U.S. spends an awful lot of money on health care.


Click to read more | Comment

12.03 Welcome to Beyond the Polls

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 | Jean Johnson

Welcome to Beyond the Polls, our regular commentary on what Americans are thinking about pivotal issues our country and communities face. Each month, we offer a second look — a deeper look — at public opinion. We try to put survey results in context and enrich them by drawing on our extensive experience listening to citizens in both research and community settings over the years.

Our aim is to explore and understand the hopes, values, concerns, and priorities people bring to today’s issues — the public questions and controversies we think about every day. Just as important, we want to juxtapose the views that polling typically captures with what happens to those views when citizens have a chance to absorb and weigh different options for addressing issues and hear what other citizens have to say about them.

So what led us to develop Beyond the Polls? Here is some of what’s behind the series:


Click to read more | Comment

12.03 Is There Really a Generation Gap on Social Security?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 | Jean Johnson

It’s reasonably clear that younger and older Americans think differently about tattoos. And maybe there’s a divide over e-mail versus texting. But now that Congress and the President are resuming talks about long-term federal budget issues, proposals to reform Social Security to stabilize its costs are back on the table.

In contrast, opinion leaders like Paul Krugman and Senator Elizabeth Warren say we should expand Social Security, arguing that current retirement policies will leave too many Americans living in poverty in their later years.

So that raises a question: Are the views and preferences of younger and older Americans really at odds when it comes to Social Security? What do polls show, and what happens when Americans of all ages have a chance to talk together about this issue?

The answers to these questions will be important for us to explore as we and our elected officials discuss and negotiate solutions to the issue of Social Security.

A quick glance at some recent polling does seem to show some wide gaps among the generations:


Click to read more | Comment

10.17 Beyond the Polls: Why Polling on the Debt Ceiling is "Mushy"

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 | Jean Johnson

While we have avoided an unprecedented federal default for the time being, the debt ceiling matter hasn’t been resolved. We could be right at the brink again in just a matter of months. Pundits and politicians from both parties lean on recent polls to demonstrate why their perspective is the one that the American public supports. But have a majority of Americans actually made up their minds about the debt ceiling? This is an issue where a single survey finding taken at face value or in isolation can be misleading.

What polling really reveals is that members of the public are still wrestling with the debt ceiling dilemma. Public opinion on this issue is still "mushy" – a term used by Public Agenda’s founder Daniel Yankelovich to describe poll findings that aren’t stable because people are still absorbing new information and ideas, grappling with trade-offs and unsure what they really think. When opinions are still mushy, survey results can fluctuate dramatically. Once people become more realistic and settled in their views, public opinion tends to be remarkably steady over time.


Click to read more | Comment