June 2015

Understanding Public Opinion

Jeremy Pope, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Center for Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, held the attention of our group with his insights into the nature of public opinion at our May General Meeting.

The central thesis of his remarks is that the subject, Public Opinion, is complicated. People have many sources to digest while forming their own opinions; perhaps the most important being socialization, what do our friends and peers think? People’s own personal experiences play a major role of what they think as individuals. Attained education levels tend to make people more tolerant of diverse groups. Self-interests, reference groups are also important. The surprise to this author is that “the media” is the least important determining factor of public opinion.

Basing opinions on a single published poll will not yield an accurate picture of current public opinion. Compiling polls has a much better chance at figuring out what the public thinks. However, major pollsters, not unlike individuals, tend to be affected by a “herd” phenomenon where they prejudice their published results to match what other pollsters conclude. The example given was the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Election. Obama beat Romney by a comfortable margin even though the aggregate of polls were convinced that the election would be very close.

The next surprising point was that public opinion really doesn’t change very much over time. For example the numbers around abortion have not changed significantly since the landmark Rowe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973. This is despite millions of dollars being spent by organizations on both sides of the issue. The major exception to stability of public opinion is Gay Marriage. The percentages supporting freedom to marry have literally changed places in the past 30 years.

Pope concluded public opinion is generally not informed, people do not easily change their opinions. It is also not very ideological outside the walls of our national and state legislatures. People will agree with part of the positions that an elected official promotes but almost nobody falls strictly into line with the politico. Finally, public opinion appears to be inconsistent which delights people like Professor Pope because it means job security for him and his colleagues.

—Wayne Wilson

The Religious Right Are Politically Stronger Than Ever
Reprinted from Mr. Doerr’s letter in the Charleston (WV) Gazette, 4/5/2015

James Haught’s March 22 article, “Cultural change is slow but deep”, accurately reported demographic shifts in religion in America, but that’s not the whole story. The “nones” or religiously unaffiliated may be 20 percent of our population now, but in the 2014 elections—in which only 36 percent of eligibles bothered to vote—exit surveys showed that only 12 percent of voters were “nones.”

Further, while very conservative churchgoers, usually labeled the “Religious Right”, are diminishing somewhat in numbers, they are politically stronger than ever. They and their political allies nationwide have:

  1. Advanced their agenda of diverting public funds to faith-based private schools through vouchers and tax credits, even though American voters between 1966 and 2014 have rejected such measures by an average 2-to-1 margin in 28 state referendum elections from coast to coast; and this is damaging the public schools serving 90 percent of our kids.
  2. Increased restrictions on women exercising their rights of conscience and religious freedom to terminate problem pregnancies for medical or other serious reasons.
  3. Denied climate change—involving carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, resource depletion, toxic waste accumulation, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and nutrient loss, rising sea levels (40 percent of world population lives in coastal areas), shrinking biodiversity, and increasing sociopolitical instability and violence, all of which is fueled by human overpopulation—thus endangering the planet.
  4. Increased federal and state court rulings that undermine the constitutional church-state separation that protects the religious freedom of each and every one of us.

There is indeed a culture shift, but our country is not out of the woods by a long shot. Americans of all persuasions—Protestants, Catholics, Jews, the “nones” and others—need to work together to stop the erosion of our basic values before it is too late.

—Edd Doerr

(Note: Edd Doerr is President of Americans for Religious Liberty, Jim Haught is editor of the Charleston (WV) Gazette, and both are columnists in Free Inquiry. – Thanks to PIQUE, the Newsletter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York)


President’s Report

Guns and Violence
Part 2

Last month I started a series with my president’s message about guns and violence. I want to continue the series, but as I was thinking about all the blathering I want to do, it became apparent to me that two installments aren’t going to be enough. For one thing, I’m having too much fun reminiscing about my past. I hope it’s not too boring.

Continuing on with how guns and ammo were a part of my life, the next step from fireworks and hunting, my life with “guns and ammo” takes a big leap when I attend the United States Air Force munitions and weapons tech school. During this training a person learns about all the different weapons systems. It literally included everything from small arms ammo to nuclear weapons. If I remember right, they called it CNBC (Conventional, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical). That covers a lot of different weapons and the 1300 stock list of weapons and components was huge. But the first thing they teach is of course safety. Like I said earlier, “With explosives, no second chances.”

In retrospect attending this school was fascinating and strange, with many hours slow motion films of these weapons demonstrated. We humans put a lot into developing and manufacturing all kinds of ways to kill each other. The school lasted for several weeks of all day long in the classroom and plenty to study back at the barracks.

After finishing this schooling, I was stationed at Hill Field for a few months before I was shipped out to U-tapao Air Force Base in Thailand for a year, mostly during 1968. The base was a big one because we were a B-52 base where bombing sorties went out to targets in Vietnam almost continuously.

My Job was in the bomb dump at a facility called BABS (Bomb Assembly Building) where we installed the fuses and delay elements, suspension lugs, couplers and fins. They were then ready to be put on the wings pylons (24) or installed into racks of 42 (2 racks per aircraft) for a total of 108 bombs. It’s one hell of a weapons system.

I actually enjoyed the munitions career field and began working with the guys in EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) to get my foot in the door. If they had sent me to EOD School, I probably would have had a very different life as a career man in the Air Force.

BUT, when they sent me back after my year in Thailand, they crossed trained me (do to an imbalance in my field) to a Security Police Squadron. I really hated being out of munitions. But like a good young Sargent, I did my duty.

The little more than two years that I worked Security Police Law enforcement Is where some of my duality about gun violence and police violence got its start. In that time I went to a couple of fatal vehicle accidents, a couple of other accidental deaths, fights, a small riot, a few fires, one armed robbery and numerous “domestic disturbances.” These conflicts, where you deal with a variety problems, is where one side of my duality came from. The other side came from working with fellow security police officers. Some were very good officers and some were very bad ones.

Next month I will continue by relating a couple of intense encounters I had at a domestic disturbance and another incident just on the street. But I need to close up for now.

Actually, as I write this, tomorrow is the 6th and I will be setting up our booth at the Pride Festival for the second year. You won’t see this until after the festival, but I hope I see a few of you there this weekend. If not, perhaps I’ll see you for our movie night this month. I’ll be bringing my DVD of The Court Jester. It’s a delightful classic comedy with Danny Kaye, Basil Rathbone and Angela Lansbury. I will bring my homemade popcorn and other movie junk food. See you soon.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU


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