New Poll Numbers Paint a Fascinating “Portrait of America”

During a presidential campaign, pollsters ride high. Despite perennial criticism, “horse race”–style campaign reporting nevertheless keeps political junkies glued to Twitter, awaiting the latest links to who is up and who is down. Those in the game, of course, are paid to pay attention to such things, but ultimately the news of who is leading 2.3 percent in states that begin with a “C” says little about the country as a whole. If we are going to learn something useful from polling the public, the questions should be about something more revealing than whether Candidate X is marginally less distasteful than Candidate Y.

Thus it is quite gratifying to see the launch of “Portrait of America,” a new series on public opinion from CapX and YouGov, ably curated by political columnist Tim Montgomerie. The Portrait of America questions cover, yes, attitudes toward current presidential candidates, but also address broader cultural questions about the role of government and business in society. As Tim describes it:

…we hope the Portrait of America website will become a fascinating account of what Americans think and believe in 2016, a vital election year. On an almost daily basis we’ll be covering religion, politics, sport, entertainment, education, family life, crime, race and a lot about the subjects most dear to CapX – especially what Americans think about private enterprise, big business, tax, free trade and philanthropy.

In other words, it’s fascinating stuff.

Last week we found out that the U.S. economy is seen as the most important factor by far in maintaining the nation’s strength around the world at 52 percent, even greater that our military, which was cited by 43 percent of respondents. Given the option of choosing their top three factors, those polled named technology 30 percent of the time and U.S. cultural exports, like pop music and Hollywood movies, only 10 percent of the time.

Yesterday’s post covered another interesting area, persistent racial inequalities in American society. In that poll, 49 percent of YouGov’s respondents thought that “the injustice of the economic system and the way it traps the already poor” was to blame for disparities between black and white Americans. This is a fascinating result, but it also deserves further exploration. We still don’t know whether respondents think that the normal operations of a market economy are to blame, or if the culprit is cronyism and corruption of the market system. There are plenty of anti-market critics who would agree with the former characterization, but arguably people like Arthur Brooks and Charles Murray would be in agreement with the latter.

CapX’s partnership with YouGov actually predates the creation of Portrait of America, by the way, going back to last year’s poll on What the World Thinks about Capitalism. Answer: it’s complicated