Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

"Wisdom" scorecards

There was an interesting post over at Medpundit, with a link to this table in the New England Journal of Medicine. The table shows the reasons given by people for casting their vote for their particular candidate. It's broken down by election cycle, from 1992 through 2004. The different questions asked in each election cycle make it somewhat difficult to compare across the years, but not impossible. The methodology also changed from year to year, as no standard was applied, and polling was conducted by different groups. The 2004 listing was done before the election, using "likely voters". Here are some of the findings:

The Economy & Jobs was the #1 item in 1992, #2 in 1996, #2 in 2000, and #1 in 2004. Today's economy is in about the same place it was in 1996, as far as unemployment rate (both 5.4%), but there are more people working today than at any time in our history. There are also more people running their own business, and the number of one-person businesses has increased phenomenally since 1992.

The Federal Deficit was #2 in 1992, and dropped to #6 in 2000. It's not on the 2000 or 2004 agenda. I know the federal deficit is a big issue with a lot of people. The Bush deficit is the fifth-largest, in constant dollars, of all time. Yet with a war, recovering from a recession, recovering from the worst enemy attack of all times, it's not as bad as a lot of people believe. It's still not good, but the tax cuts have spurred growth, and that growth has resulted in a deficit that was some 15% lower than initially projected. We'll have to see if the White House is truly interested in cutting spending. There's plenty of waste in the budget, and plenty of places to cut, beginning with some agencies that have long outlived their time.

Health Care was #3 in 1992, dropped to #5 in 1996, was #6 in 2000, and is back to #4 in 2004. Unfortunately, the best thing President Bush could do for health care costs is to implement tort reform - something very few politicians want to touch. The single biggest cost for a doctor to practice is malpractice insurance. The cost of that has been increasing expotentially for the last ten years, thanks to trial lawyers and exhorbitant settlements against the medical community. There still need to be some changes made to medicare/medicaid, and the government's attitude toward drug companies and manufacturers needs some major overhaul, but tort reform is still the #1 reason for the spiraling rise in health care costs.

Family Values was #4 in 1992, became #1 as "Moral and Ethical values" in 1996, was still #1 in 2000, and ISN'T EVEN LISTED in the 2004 list. We all have heard from the pundits that it was the #1 or #2 reason given by a substantial number of people during exit polls on Nov 2nd, so this is a big surprise, compared to the pre-election poll.

Taxes rated #5 in 1992, moved to #4 in 1996, back down to #5 in 2000, and isn't on the 2004 list at all. I'm sure, however, that the Bush tax cuts were sufficient for many to cast their ballot for him in the 2004 election.

Education rated #6 in 1992, moved up to #3 in 1996, was still #3 in 2000, and dropped to #5 in 2004.

Abortion rated #7 in 1992, 1996, and 2000, and isn't even on the chart for 2004.

Foreign policy was #8 in 1992, #10 in 1996 and 2000, and isn't on the chart for 2004.

The environment was #9 (and last) in 1992, #8 in 1996, #8 in 2000, and not on the chart for 2004.

Crime was not on the chart in 1992, #9 in 1996, and not on the charts for 2000 and 2004.

Poverty was not on the chart for 1992, #11 in 1996, and not on the chart for 2000 and 2004.

Social Security showed up as an item at #4 in 2000, but dropped to #6 in 2004.

The Budget Surplus appeared at #9 in 2000, but isn't on any other chart.

Two new items, at #2 and #3 respectively, in the 2004 chart was the War in Iraq, and the Campaign against terrorism.

What does all this mean? It means, for one thing, the people of the United States are paying attention to what's going on around them, and in what their government is doing in Washington. It also reflects that they respond pretty predictably to the world, the government, and what's going on in their neighborhoods. These results show the people respond first about things that directly affect them (jobs, health care, moral values, education, taxes), less about things that only indirectly affect them or affect them less directly (such as the federal deficit, social security, etc.).

There's also a direct response to perceived changes in their environment. Moral and ethical values moved from #4 in 1992 to #1 in 1996, 2000, and probably in 2004. This could have been a direct response to President Clinton's behavior in the White House, or the behavior of politicians in general, augmented by the scandals associated with several large companies. Americans understand that moral and ethical values are all that "keep the playing field level" in economic, political, cultural, social, and judicial society. If the "rules" don't apply to everybody, then they're not rules, but suggestions.

Individual liberty, control of one's destiny, and opportunity rate highly with Americans. We focus on the state of the economy, the availability of decent jobs, the role education plays in shaping our opportunity, and how taxes can place a lid on all of that. Thus, the Economy and Jobs was always in the top two.

As the Baby Boom generation gets older, there will be more emphasis on Social Security. The fact that the system is unstable, and that the majority of citizens KNOW it's unstable, has moved it up the ladder on things to be concerned about. There will also be an greater emphasis on health care, especially the role of Medicare and Medicaid, as the Boomers age.

War has always been a time of uncertainty, and the War on Islamic Terrorism is no different. The major difference is that now every American can conceive of themselves being a direct victim of war, as the terrorists concentrate on soft civilian targets. The war in Iraq is a major concern, because how well we handle that war will help determine if we, ourselves, become a more likely target. With the terrorists focusing on Iraq and Europe, we've had a respite. The probability of another strike in the United States is on everyone's mind, either consciously or unconsciously.

Abortion is still a major fault line in American politics, and even though it's not charted, probably played a significant role in this year's election. But abortion doesn't affect most Americans directly, so few list it as one of their primary reasons for voting for or against a candidate. Most Americans understand that the environment is getting better, so there's not a lot of emphasis placed on it. Bush's decision to rescind or modify some of the decisions made during the last administration may upset a few people, but they're too small a minority to have a major impact on elections. On the plus side, those same decisions may have attracted as many votes as they repelled, for either candidate.

Americans prove over and over that Foreign Affairs just doesn't interest them. Since the end of the Cold War, what other nations have thought about the United States has had less and less import on the American public, because it's had little or no effect on them. The United States, with the exception of a few raw materials, most specifically oil, is relatively self-sufficient. Americans are concerned with other nations when those nations threaten us or our people, or attempt to interfere with our lives. Otherwise, the world at large is studied, the antics of their politicians laughed at or scorned, and their problems tut-tutted, and then ignored as not being something to be concerned with. The opposite cannot be said, however: when the American people become annoyed with another nation, how they respond can have a LARGE impact on that nation, as France learned following September 11th and the run-up to the Iraqi war. What France did was similar to whacking a bee's nest, or stirring an anthill. The response was individual, and cost France several $billion.

The Lyndon Johnson "War on Poverty" must be over - who won? The American people don't seem to rate it as a major political problem any more, and certainly not one to choose a president or other high official over. Since the number of people that live under the poverty line has increased, why isn't it given more importance? The answer would take a post in itself, but basically, poverty in America is a misnomer - it's more the effect of illegal immigration (an issue rising in importance), incompetence, unwillingness to change, or circumstancial. Most people know that the majority of Americans have the OPPORTUNITY to rise above poverty on their own, and that the opportunities are ever-increasing. The solution to the "poverty" problem is in place, it just hasn't caught up with everybody yet (or everybody hasn't caught up with it, however you wish to look at it).

What does that leave? Crime is down in virtually every major category. There are still problems with schools, but the problems are with SCHOOLS, not education. Even that's improving, albeit slowly and painfully. "No Child Left Behind" was a good start, and when it's fully implemented, will force changes in the entire education system, from bottom to top. The changes are long overdue, but there are more important problems to concentrate on at the moment.

The exit poll data then shows an evolutionary process, where Americans concentrate on making decisions based on what they, as INDIVIDUALS as well as groups (think political parties), think are most important AT THE TIME. The score card will change - some things will pop up, others will fall away. The key is how much each item directly affects the largest number of households, and how those households feel about the people elected to deal with those problems. If they feel their elected leaders are doing a good job, they continue them in office. If they don't, they fire them, as Tom Daschle found out last Tuesday.


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