Morality Top Concern, Social Security Top Priority

Concerns about the moral climate in this country now top the list of national problems. Fully 35% of the public cites moral concerns — ranging from lack of family values to teen violence — when asked in an open-ended format to name the most important problem facing the nation today. Taken together, these worries overwhelm all other issues including the economy, health care and education.

Moral concerns cut across the political spectrum and can be found within each typology group. However, policy priorities are much more varied. When asked what one issue the next president should focus on, differences emerge both across and within the major party coalitions.

Overall, the Republican-oriented groups place more emphasis on morality than do the Democrats. The Democrats place higher priority on health care.

Morality is the top priority for Staunch Conservatives and Populists. This issue is given less weight by Moderate Republicans, who emphasize Social Security and Medicare, as well as education. Staunch Conservatives are the only group to give taxes top priority status.

The financial stability of Social Security and Medicare is the top concern of three of the four Democratically-oriented groups. Among the Democratic groups, only the Liberal Democrats place less emphasis on Social Security and Medicare, focusing instead on education and health care.

The two centrist groups in the typology do not share the same policy priorities. The New Prosperity Independents give the highest priority to education. They would also like to see the president focus on the economy. The Disaffecteds make Social Security and Medicare their top priority; health care comes in second.

Specific Policy Proposals

In addition to addressing general policy priorities, the poll tested several specific issues and proposals. The public expresses very clear preferences on several of the issues and divides more evenly on others. The series highlights important schisms within the major party coalitions and finds the Democratic Party groups more united overall than the Republicans.

Crime: It remains one of the public’s top concerns, but Americans are deeply divided over approaches to dealing with this issue. Overall, a majority (56%) favor restricting the sale of handguns. Support for gun control varies widely within the Republican Party. Only 28% of Staunch Conservatives favor restricting handgun sales, compared to 60% of Populist Republicans and 63% of Moderate Republicans. Democrats are more united on this issue, although Socially Conservative Democrats and the Partisan Poor are less enthusiastic about restrictions — 51% and 54%, respectively, favor them.

New Prosperity Independents are strongly in favor of gun control (66% favor restrictions on handgun sales), while Disaffecteds are more evenly divided (48% favor, 51% oppose).

Republicans are more unified on the issue of how juvenile offenders should be treated. Overwhelming majorities of Staunch Conservatives (87%), Moderate Republicans (81%) and Populists (77%) favor laws that would result in more juvenile offenders aged 14 and over being tried as adults. Most Democrats share this point of view with the exception of Liberal Democrats. Roughly seven-in-ten Socially Conservative Democrats, New Democrats and Partisan Poor favor tougher laws for juveniles. Only 55% of Liberals do. Both Independent groups strongly favor these types of laws.

Education: Most Americans (57%) favor federal funding for vouchers to help low- and middle-income parents send their children to private and parochial schools. While the public is divided on this issue, there is little variance across the typology groups. Roughly six-in-ten Staunch Conservatives, Moderate Republicans and Populists favor vouchers. Roughly 50% of Liberals, Socially Conservative Democrats and New Democrats favor them. The Partisan Poor stand out somewhat on this issue: 62% favor federal funding for vouchers.

The issue of “English only” in the classroom is much more divisive — both across and within party groups. Overall 49% of the public favors doing away with bilingual education and requiring that all public school students are taught in English only. This policy proposal is most popular among Staunch Conservatives — fully 80% favor such an approach. Only 53% of Moderate Republicans and even fewer Populists (43%) favor doing away with bilingual education. Democrats are also divided on the issue. Socially Conservative Democrats are most supportive of this proposal (58% favor). Liberals are least enthusiastic — 29% are in favor. New Democrats and the Partisan Poor fall in between these two extremes, but on balance oppose an English-only requirement.

Health Care: A strong majority of Americans now favor the creation of federal government standards to protect the rights of patients in HMOs and managed health-care plans. Only 30% say this would get the government too involved in health care. Support for such standards has increased significantly in the last year. Overall, 64% of Americans want the government to enact such standards, up 16 percentage points since September 1998. Republican support for a so-called patients’ bill of rights has increased 14 percentage points in the last year, from 36% in 1998 to the current 50%. Support among Independents has increased from 44% to 65% this year. Among Democrats, the percentage has gone from 63% to 73%.

Overwhelming majorities of Liberals, Partisan Poor and Disaffecteds want government standards for HMOs and managed health-care plans, at 80%, 77%, and 70%, respectively. Staunch Conservatives are the only typology group in which a minority favor such standards; only 33% support national standards.

Fully eight-in-ten Americans (82%) favor allowing patients to sue insurance companies that deny or delay treatment; almost half (47%) strongly favor this proposal. Although support is generally across-the-board for this measure, Democrats and Independents are somewhat more enthusiastic about it. Fully 53% of Democrats strongly favor the measure as do 48% of Independents, compared to 40% of Republicans.

Disaffecteds, Liberals and the Partisan Poor register the strongest support for allowing patients to sue insurance companies: 59%, 56% and 56%, respectively, again strongly favor this proposal. Only one-third of Staunch Conservatives (32%) strongly favor it.

International Issues: The public is divided on two Clinton foreign policy initiatives tested in the poll. A slim majority (54%) favors using American military troops as peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo. And, on balance, the public opposes giving the president fast-track authority to negotiate international trade deals (49% vs. 44% favor).

Important divisions within the Republican Party emerge on both of these issues. For example, only 29% of Staunch Conservatives favor using American troops as peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo; 69% oppose this. On the other hand, Moderate Republicans overwhelmingly favor the use of U.S. troops — 69% favor, 28% oppose. Populist Republicans come closer to Staunch Conservatives on this issue — 42% favor using U.S. troops as peacekeepers, 55% oppose.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are more supportive of this Clinton policy. Roughly six-in-ten favor using U.S. troops as peacekeepers. The Partisan Poor are the least supportive of this — only 51% favor.

On the issue of trade agreements, divisions within the Republican Party are again apparent. Staunch Conservatives are strongly opposed to granting the president fast-track authority: 76% oppose, only 22% favor. Moderate Republicans and Populist Republicans also oppose this proposal; however, their opposition is more muted. Among Moderate Republicans, 53% oppose, 43% favor; among Populists, 57% oppose, 35% favor.

Democratic groups are more united on this issue. Roughly 50% of Liberals, Socially Conservative Democrats and Partisan Poor favor fast track. New Democrats are more likely than any other typology group to endorse the idea — 61% favor.

>Taxes: Overall, the public favors a reduction in the capital gains tax. Most Republicans favor such a tax cut; Staunch Conservatives overwhelmingly favor such a tax cut (85%). Populist Republicans are less enthusiastic — 65% favor. New Prosperity Independents are more likely than Populists to favor a capital gains cut. Moderate Republicans fall in between these two extremes.

Roughly half of the Democrats would like to see a cut in the capital gains tax. Socially Conservative Democrats and New Democrats are most in favor of such a tax cut (58% for each group). Even so, fully 51% of the Partisan Poor support a reduction.

>Social Security Privatization: Just over half of Americans (57%) have heard about proposals to allow people to put a portion of Social Security taxes into a personal savings account to be used for retirement. Among those who have heard of it, the idea is quite popular. Overall, 70% of those who have heard about this proposal favor it. It receives widespread support from across the political spectrum. At least six-in-ten of each typology group favors the proposal. New Prosperity Independents are the most likely to endorse this idea (78% favor); the Partisan Poor are the least enthusiastic (59% favor).

>Minimum Wage: The public overwhelmingly favors raising the minimum wage — 82% favor; 48% strongly. Support for an increase in the minimum wage has remained steady since this question was asked in February 1998. Support is strongest among Democrats: 61% strongly favor raising the minimum wage. Almost half of Independents are strongly in favor of the wage increase compared to about one-third (35%) of Republicans.

Within the Republican Party there are real differences of opinion on this issue. Only 14% of Staunch Conservatives strongly favor an increase in the minimum wage. This compares with 38% of Moderate Republicans and 53% of Populist Republicans.

>Abortion: Laws that would require young women to gain the consent of at least one parent before having an abortion are quite popular with the public. Fully 73% of the public favors such a requirement.

Republicans are much more unified on this issue than are Democrats. Roughly eight-in-ten Staunch Conservatives, Moderate Republicans and Populist Republicans favor a parental consent requirement.

Democrats, on the other hand split on this issue. Liberals are evenly divided — 51% favor, 49% oppose. Socially Conservative Democrats overwhelmingly favor parental consent (81%). New Democrats and the Partisan Poor are mostly in favor — 71% for each group.

>Campaign Finance: A majority of the public (56%) favors a ban on soft money — the unlimited campaign contributions that corporations, unions and others can now make to political parties: 29% of the public strongly favors such a ban; 15% strongly oppose it. Support for this measure cuts across party lines — 32% of Republicans, 30% of Independents and 27% of Democrats strongly favor a spending ban. Among typology groups, Liberals express the strongest support for banning soft money, almost half (47%) strongly favor such action.

Cloning: On balance the public is opposed to restrictions on scientific research on human cloning — 57% vs. 39% favor such restrictions. Staunch Conservatives are the most likely to favor restricting this type of research. However, even among this group a narrow majority (51%) opposes such restrictions.