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What Everybody Wants Except The Politicians

Most of the issues that are mentioned in political discussions are extremely contentious. That’s usually what you see presented on the news or in fiery comment threads online. It’s what you see when protestors and counter-protestors clash in public. It’s what you see when current officeholders release messages: scorched earth commentary all controversy and almost zero substance.

But it turns out that there are a handful of issues that almost everyone supports except for politicians. And all of these issues are about power and trust. For example:

Term Limits – A whopping 80% of Americans support the idea of preventing politicians from keeping the same office forever [1]. A few states have managed to do this for a few positions, but usually through citizen initiatives and not via the elected representatives. And as I’ve said before, support for term limits shows how much we distrust elected officials.

Personal Internet Privacy – Almost everyone in America feels the same way. We think that “social media companies should be regulated to protect the privacy of personal data.” And this isn’t a partisan issue: 87% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans and 86% of Independents agree with this statement [2]. Yet, we haven’t seen much lately on this topic. Which is probably because of the massive political campaign donations from tech companies [3].

Special Interest Groups – Pretty much all of us (76%) agree that the government is run by a few big organizations and wealthy individuals looking out for themselves—not by representatives and bureaucrats serving the people [4]. But since 1998, total spending on lobbying has more than doubled and shows no sign of slowing down [5].

Redistricting – This is the topic of the moment (which I’ve also talked about before) because states are required by the U.S. Constitution to redraw their lines every ten years following the Census. If you ask average people, most of them don’t think politicians should be responsible for drawing their own districts [6]. But that’s what’s happening. And if you go to the hearings (as I’ve been doing) you’ll hear citizen after citizen standing up to express concern—but no one standing up to say that they support the proposed maps.

These examples should not exist. Politicians should be talking about controversial topics, debating and studying them, listening to voters. But if an issue is one where almost everyone feels the same way, why aren’t we passing a law and moving on?

Because in many ways, the politicians aren’t here for us. They are here for themselves.

[1] Here’s one poll, and here’s a roundup of other polls from years ago, and here’s a poll suggesting widespread support for term limits even on Supreme Court justices.

[2] This comes from a 2020 poll conducted by Harvard University.

[3] The Observer has reported on these donations which tend to lean Democratic. But there hasn’t been much movement on the topic, beyond a couple of bills (like the SAFE DATA Act) which are stuck in committee.

[4] According to Pew Research in 2018. And that’s 71% of Republicans and 86% of Democrats.

[5] Probably more than doubled. A Statista chart claims an increase from $1.45B to $3.49B in the last two decades. But in truth, we really don’t know how much is being spent on lobbying, because the data isn’t coded correctly. Yikes.

[6] People generally support independent redistricting commissions.

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