Public Divided on Need, Urgency of Stimulus Plan

In a mid-December Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll, respondents were told that Congress was debating an economic-stimulus plan. Forty-two percent said they thought it was necessary for Congress to pass such a plan for the economy to improve, but 44 percent said the economy would improve anyway.

A Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll, also from mid-December, produced similar results. Forty-seven percent said the federal government should take immediate action to fix the country’s economic problems, but 49 percent said current economic woes are part of the natural business cycle and immediate government action is not necessary.

In two questions asked by Fox News-Opinion Dynamics surveyors in mid-December, respondents favored cutting tax rates over immediate tax relief. In response to the first question, a mere 12 percent said they would take an immediate tax refund today versus 81 percent who said they would prefer lower tax rates for the next five years. In the second question, 12 percent said an immediate tax refund would do more to stimulate the economy, while 78 percent said a long-term reduction of tax rates would accomplish this goal.

Trust in Government?

“How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right?” Positive responses to this question, first asked nationally by University of Michigan interviewers in 1958 (when 73 percent said they trusted Washington just about always or most of the time), started to decline in the 1970s (36 percent in 1974). Confidence surged briefly in 1984 (44 percent) and again in the late 1990s (44 percent, coinciding with good economic news), but it never returned to 1960s levels. After Sept. 11 trust in Washington rose again (60 percent in an October Gallup poll).

The low levels of trust in government for the past quarter century provided lots of material for journalistic and academic handwringing over the health of American democracy. But in an essay in the January/February 2002 issue of the Public Perspective, David Moore, the senior editor of the Gallup Poll, argues that no one has proved that low levels of trust represent a threat to democracy or the legitimacy of America’s democratic system. Other survey questions asked during the period of declining trust, he says, showed robust patriotism and strong loyalty to government. “The resurgence in trust” after Sept. 11, he believes, is unlikely to mean very much for democracy, either.

Moore points out that the academics and journalists who focused on the decrease in people’s trust in Washington never specified how much trust “was necessary for a democracy to function as it should.” Reliance on this single question, he argues, misled many journalists and professors.

Religion's Influence

In mid-December, Gallup, CNN and USA Today updated a series of questions they regularly ask about religion. People’s views about the importance of church attendance and religion rose slightly after Sept. 11 and then returned to previous levels. Responses to one question, however, changed dramatically. Seventy-one percent said religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life, up from 39 percent in February and above the all-time high of 69 percent in 1957.

Women in Afghanistan

In November, when Greenberg Quinlan Rossner Research surveyed women for the Center for Gender Equity, 50 percent said they had heard a lot about the conditions women face in Afghanistan, and 35 percent said they had heard a little.

When those who had heard something were asked to elaborate, majorities responded with comments about general bad treatment and dress codes. Slightly more than 4 in 10 said they had heard that women were forbidden to work outside the home, were unable to attend school or university, and were beaten or imprisoned for violating Taliban rules.

Only 8 percent said hearing about the condition of women in Afghanistan made them more aware of discrimination in the United States. Eleven percent said that the plight of Afghan women made no difference in their views of women’s rights here; however, 77 percent said that the situation in Afghanistan made them appreciate how far America has come in terms of women’s rights.

When asked which statement came closest to their view, 50 percent said we should insist that Afghan female leaders be involved in negotiations to ensure that their concerns are recognized by the new government, and a third chose the statement that the United States needed the most important groups to participate in the negotiations to create a stable government, “even if that means the exclusion of Afghan women leaders from the negotiations.”

Karlyn H. Bowman is a resident fellow at AEI.

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