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House Committee Takes up Postal Reform – Now So Can YOU!

After several false starts, Congress is once again taking up the issue of postal reform this week. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a full committee hearing today on a bipartisan bill, The Postal Service Reform Act of 2017 (HR 756). The bill proposes using cluster boxes, keeping Saturday delivery, addressing retiree benefits and pension liabilities, and cutting costs, saving $2.2 billion a year. But is this the right approach?

What to the American people think? Voice Of the People conducted an in-depth Citizen Cabinet survey to find out how the American people would reform the U.S. Post Office based on previous reform proposals and here is our full report

How would YOU reform the Postal Service? VOP also created an online simulation, designed to put you in Congress’ shoes, so the American people can have a voice on this issue. You can go through a background briefing prepared by a bipartisan group of experts, weigh the options Congress is facing, and share your views directly with your members of Congress. Try it now at: www.vop.org/consultations

Should the Post Office scale back pension liabilities and healthcare costs, close some post offices, offer new services to raise revenue? What about Saturday delivery, or rural service? The choices Congress faces are not easy. Here’s your chance to get informed, weigh the options, and make your voice heard.

Iran deal: Keep or Withdraw?

President-elect Donald Trump has proposed that the United States withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran and seek to negotiate a deal with better terms. This brief simulation provides information on the main terms of the deal that was negotiated between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear program, as well as arguments for and against withdrawing and arguments for and against continuing with the deal.

Should the U.S. withdraw or continue with the deal? Try the Iran Policymaking Simulation

Most Americans Oppose Withdrawing from Iran Deal

With the Donald J. Trump administration just a couple of weeks away from taking over the nation’s foreign policy, a new survey from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC) finds that nearly two thirds of Americans oppose withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and seeking to negotiate a better deal, as has been proposed by the president-elect.

“Though President-elect Trump campaigned on ripping up the deal and seeking to negotiate a better one, the majority of Americans would rather continue with the deal as long as Iran continues to comply with its terms.” said PPC Director Steven Kull.

Respondents were first presented the main terms of the deal that was negotiated between the UN Security Council (plus Germany) and Iran over its nuclear enrichment program and asked to evaluate arguments for and against withdrawing and seeking to renegotiate. Both arguments were found convincing by majorities. Six in ten expressed optimism that other UN members could be persuaded to join in the effort to renegotiate.

However, 69 percent said it was unlikely that Iran would agree to renegotiate the deal and make more concessions. This was a bipartisan perspective that included 64 percent of Republicans as well as 75 percent of Democrats.

When asked for their final recommendation, 64 percent recommended continuing with the deal as long as Iran continues to comply with the terms, while 34 percent opted for withdrawing and seeking to negotiate a better deal.

While an overwhelming 86 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents favored continuing with the deal, only 40 percent of Republicans concurred. Fifty eight percent of Republicans favored withdrawing and seeking to renegotiate.

Interestingly, support for renegotiating was high among Republicans, though even among those who favored renegotiation, 57 percent said it was unlikely that the negotiations would succeed.

The survey was fielded December 22-28, 2016 with a sample of 2,980 adult respondents drawn from Nielsen-Scarborough’s probability-based national panel (which was recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households). The margin of error is +/- 1.8 percent.

The questionnaire can be found at: http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/US_Role_in_World_Quaire-IRAN.pdf

The Peoples’ voice got louder in 2016

With the year coming to a close we pause to take a breath, thank our followers and reflect for a few moments on our efforts in 2016.

The Citizen Cabinet was greatly expanded this year to include a larger national panel, with several thousand participants now taking part in each study. Along with our work in Maryland, Oklahoma and Virginia, we also began operating in the three most populous states, California, New York and Texas as well as Florida and Ohio.

Registered voters from across the country considered policymaking simulations on several topics, including the federal budget, defense spending, U.S. energy policy, and Social Security reform. During the heat of the presidential campaign, we also looked into voter attitudes about American politics and government, using more standard survey techniques. This interesting study revealed an unprecedented level of dissatisfaction with government based on the broadly-held perception that it fails to listen to the people. The next Citizen Cabinet surveys will be on Medicare and U.S. programs to fight poverty.

In May, we released an abridged report on American attitudes toward the Clean Power Plan, as part of “Climate Action 2016,” a large, 3-day conference in College Park and Washington, DC. The event, hosted by the University of Maryland, included climate experts from around the globe. That study was highlighted at a Q&A session with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, moderated by science educator and TV personality Bill Nye.

With more states now part of the Citizen Cabinet program, our outreach on Capitol Hill became even more extensive. We’ve had more than five dozen individual meetings with congressional offices and members of Congress this year, including briefings with key staffers from Speaker Paul Ryan and House Leader Nancy Pelosi’s offices.

We also conducted several major group staff briefings: In February we presented our findings on the federal budget, in March on defense spending and in August on energy policy. In September and October we briefed staffers from the House Ways and Means committee. On September 12, we presented findings on energy policy at a very-well attended event at the Brookings Institution that included William Reilly, former EPA administrator for George HW Bush. On October 18, we partnered with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget for a special event in the Capitol to present our findings on Social Security reform in front of a standing-room-only audience of more than 100 staffers, policy experts and reporters.

On the media front we were just as active, holding editorial meetings with The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Tampa Bay Times, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald and several others.

Reporting of our work appeared in Time Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg News, Politico, The Hill, Defense News, Fox Business, The Fiscal Times, The Huffington Post and regional papers across the country. For the first time, we also received coverage in Spanish-language outlets including Univision and Agencia EFE. VOP President Steven Kull did two-dozen radio interviews on stations all across the country, including a post-election hour with former GOP Chairman Michael Steele on SiriusXM Radio’s “P.O.T.U.S. Show.”

At press time, our Facebook followers number at 2,085, an increase of 74 percent over the year. On Twitter, we went from 331 followers to 1,036 – a robust 213 percent rate of growth. And speaking of social media, we also created our first findings-based short video this year, “How ‘We the People’ Can Help Save Social Security” which has been shared on various platforms.

As we wave goodbye to 2016, we are very grateful for the encouragement and support of our friends in the public at large. We appreciate hearing from you about concerns you have on how our government serves the people. Your generous financial donations and your continued interest in our work is gratifying and appreciated.

Our sincere thanks for your help in a successful year of giving Americans a more effective voice in government. We look forward to ever greater successes in the year to come!

Thomas Schelling (1921-2016)

Our statement on the passing of advisory board member Thomas Schelling:

“The news of the passing of Thomas Schelling greatly saddens us,” said Voice Of the People President Steven Kull. “It is difficult to overstate his stature as a scholar or his significance in international affairs. Our nation was fortunate to have his guidance as we were to having him as an advisor and a friend.”

Johnson’s Social Security Reform Act Out of Touch with Voters

Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chair of the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, has put forward a bill with a set of reforms to Social Security that the Social Security actuaries say will cover the program’s long term shortfall. However, while there is some overlap, the mix of reforms it proposes is at odds with the mix proposed by a representative sample of voters in a recent in-depth survey conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC).

In Johnson’s proposed Social Security Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 6489), nearly all reforms involved substantial benefit cuts, with no increases in revenue. However, large majorities of voters, Republicans as well as Democrats, favored more modest benefit cuts and a greater emphasis on revenue increases.

Retirement Age: Johnson’s bill would raise the full retirement age to 69. In the survey, 79 percent of survey respondents (81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats) approve of raising the full retirement age gradually to 68, but majorities reject raising it beyond 68.

Reducing Benefit Payments: The bill would reduce benefit payments for the upper 50 percent of earners. Seventy-six percent of voters approve of reducing benefits for the top 25 percent of lifetime earners (favored by 72 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats). However, a majority reject going any further by reducing benefits for the top 40 percent; only 13 percent want to reduce them for the top 50 percent.

COLA: The proposal would use “chained CPI,” a method of recalculating the cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment, which tends to reduce benefits over time. Only a third of the public approve of using chained CPI.

Raising Cap on Taxable Income: Johnson’s plan does not include this, or any step that would raise revenue. However, the voters’ most popular option in addressing the projected shortfall is to raise the cap on income subject to the payroll tax, taking it up to $215K. It has 88 percent support nationally, including 84 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats. A majority (59 percent) wants to eliminate the cap altogether, including 54 percent of Republicans.

Payroll Tax: The proposal makes no changes to the payroll tax. However, 76 percent of respondents would raise the payroll tax from 6.2 to 6.6 percent (72 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats). Majorities did not favor larger increases.

Minimum benefit: The bill also proposes an increase to the minimum benefit. Nearly six-in-ten support increasing the minimum Social Security benefit (nationally 58 percent, including 49 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Democrats).

“While Americans agree with Congressman Johnson’s effort to address the Social Security shortfall, his mix of reforms is at odds with the solution they favor,” said PPC Director Steven Kull.

Unlike a standard poll, Citizen Cabinet surveys take respondents through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker, giving them essential information and presenting key arguments on both sides of each issue. The content of the simulation was vetted for accuracy and balance by Republican and Democratic congressional staffers, as well as experts from the National Academy of Social Insurance and the American Enterprise Institute.

Once the survey results are released, a public version of the policymaking simulation is posted at vop.org for anyone to try. Citizens are encouraged to go through the simulation and then share their recommendations with their congressional representatives at: http://research.cfrinc.net/vop16159pub/

The Citizen Cabinet panel of 8,697 respondents was primarily drawn from Nielsen-Scarborough’s probability-based national panel (which was recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households). Additional recruiting by telephone and mail was conducted by Communication for Research, the University of Virginia Survey Research Center and the University of Oklahoma’s Public Opinion Learning Laboratory. The margin of error is +/- 1.4 percent. State samples: Calif. 566 (MoE +/- 4.1 percent); Fla. 657 (+/- 3.8 percent); Md. 535 (+/- 4.2 percent); N.Y. 594 (+/- 4 percent); Ohio 434 (+/- 4.7 percent); Okla. 506 (+/- 4.4 percent); Texas 519 (+/- 4.3 percent); and Va. 525 (+/- 4.2 percent).

The report can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SS_2016_Report.pdf

The full questionnaire can be found at: http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SS2016_Quaire.pdf

Support for Trump Fed by Near-Universal Frustration that Government Ignores the People

While there is much post-election interest in a small demographic of voters who shifted from voting for Barack Obama to Donald Trump, an in-depth study conducted in the midst of the election finds that Trump’s victory was buoyed by a broad-based, nearly universal crisis of confidence in how the federal government makes decisions.  

The central critique voters express is not about policy or ideology: it is that government ignores the people – both their interests and their views – in favor of special interests, campaign donors, and their parties. Among Trump supporters, these views are especially intense.

The study of 2,411 registered voters was conducted by University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC), fielded by Nielsen Scarborough and released today by Voice Of the People.

A remarkable nine-in-ten voters agreed that ‘Elected officials think more about the interests of their campaign donors than the common good of the people.’ There were, however, differences in intensity. Among all voters 63 percent agreed strongly, while among Trump supporters, 72 percent agreed strongly, and among the half of Trump supporters who said they were not only dissatisfied with government but angry, 85 percent agreed strongly. Similar numbers agreed that ‘Members of Congress think mostly about their party, not what is good for the country.’

This profound dissatisfaction with government has reached new heights in response to longstanding trend line questions. Asked whether government ‘is run for the benefit of all the people’ or is ‘pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves’ in the 1960s only a minority said that it was run by big interests. In recent years this number has risen to eight-in-ten. In the current study this leapt to an unprecedented 92 percent. Among angry Trump supporters, 99 percent said the government is run for big interests, rather than the people.

“Trump effectively mirrored back to voters what they have been saying for years, that they feel like they are being ignored in a system dominated by special interests,” said PPC Director Steven Kull, who directed the survey. “That he said he was self-financing and was denounced by leaders in his own party, strengthened his claim that he was independent and capable of shaking up the system.”

Trump has stated, “We are fighting for every citizen that believes that government should serve the people, not the donors and not special interests.” And, “I am working for you.”

As a value in itself, and as an antidote to the influence of special interests, 85 percent of voters said that the people should have more influence. Asked how much influence the people do have, the mean response was 3.5—2.4 among angry Trump supporters. Asked how much influence the people should have on a scale of 0 to 10 the mean response was 8.0.

More than eight-in-ten said that there is not an adequate system in place for the voice of the people to be heard in Congress. Equally large numbers say that elections are not an adequate system and that the ‘government should make an active effort in between elections to find out how the people view the issues the government is dealing with.’

To that end, nearly eight-in-ten, including both Clinton and Trump supporters, favored establishing large representative, scientifically-selected citizen advisory panels to get briefed on the issues government is facing and provide their recommendations directly to Congress.

This public demand for a greater voice, which PPC has been studying for more than 15 years, led to the establishment of Voice Of the People, and its campaign effort to create a citizen advisory panel, called a Citizen Cabinet, in every congressional district and state.

Other ideas for reforming government also received robust support. More than eight-in-ten favored reducing the amount of money flowing into politics. Three quarters favored having citizens or judges do congressional redistricting to counter political gerrymandering. Large majorities agree that members of Congress stay in office too long because there are no term limits.

Asked to, ‘Imagine the Founders of the American republic were somehow able to observe how the U.S. government is operating today’ and to say how well they would think ‘the U.S. government is fulfilling the vision they had’ more than eight-in-ten said not very well (35 percent) or not well at all (49 percent). Among Trump supporters the numbers saying not well at all was even higher at 69 percent.

“At present the American people are questioning the legitimacy of the U.S. system of government,” Kull added. “Unless elected officials find a way to restore voter confidence that their views count more than special interests, their frustration is likely to boil over in a variety of ways.”

The report can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Dissatisfaction_Report.pdf

The questionnaire can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Dissatisfaction_Quaire.pdf

New video: Dem, GOP voters show bipartisanship on Social Security

This new VOP-produced video shows strong agreement between Republicans and Democrats on how to address the projected Social Security shortfall. The in-depth survey included a representative panel of more than 8,600 registered voters from across the country; respondents received a background briefing, heard strongly-worded arguments from both sides, and then were asked to make recommendations. #CitizenCabinet

To watch, click this link.

As Candidates Prepare to Debate Social Security, Americans Agree On a Path to Fix It

New in-depth survey shows wide bipartisan agreement on reducing shortfall

While Social Security did not come up in the first two Presidential debates, moderator Chris Wallace is reportedly preparing to make it a topic in tomorrow’s third and final debate. Meanwhile, a new ‘Citizen Cabinet’ survey released today finds significant bipartisan consensus on four major steps that would resolve most of the program’s projected shortfall.
                      
In the in-depth survey of a representative sample of more than 8,600 registered voters, two thirds or more of Republicans and Democrats agreed on steps that would cover at least 66 percent of the shortfall – through a combination of revenue increases and benefit cuts – while six in ten eliminated the shortfall entirely. The survey, which also includes statewide samples in California, Florida, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation. The findings are featured in a new video produced by Voice Of the People, which sponsored the survey.

“In the debates so far, we’ve heard about locker rooms, we’ve heard about emails. What we haven’t heard from the candidates is what they’ll do about Social Security,” said VOP President Steven Kull. “Meanwhile, voters from both parties have clearly identified a path forward.”  

Raising the cap on income subject to the payroll to $215K is the most popular option, with 88 percent support nationally, including 84 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats. Raising the retirement age to 68 years old garnered 79 percent approval (81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Democrats).

Seventy-six percent approved of raising the payroll tax from 6.2 to 6.6 percent (72 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats), while reducing benefits for the top 25 percent of earners also received 76 percent support, including 72 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats.

These four steps would eliminate 66% of the shortfall. In addition, 59 percent went further, entirely eliminating the cap on taxable earnings, which, together with the other steps, would completely resolve the shortfall.  

Unlike a standard poll, Citizen Cabinet surveys take respondents through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker, giving them essential information and presenting key arguments on both sides of each issue. The content of the simulation was vetted for accuracy and balance by Republican and Democratic congressional staffers, as well as experts from the National Academy of Social Insurance and the American Enterprise Institute. 

Once the survey results are released, a public version of the policymaking simulation is posted at vop.org for anyone to try. Citizens are encouraged to go through the simulation and then share their recommendations with their congressional representatives at: http://research.cfrinc.net/vop16159pub/

The Citizen Cabinet panel of 8,697 respondents was drawn from Nielsen-Scarborough’s probability-based national panel (which was recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households), along with additional recruiting by telephone and mail conducted by Communication for Research, the University of Virginia Survey Research Center and the University of Oklahoma’s Public Opinion Learning Laboratory. The margin of error is +/- 1.4 percent. State samples: Calif. 566 (MoE +/- 4.1 percent); Fla. 657 (+/- 3.8 percent); Md. 535 (+/- 4.2 percent); N.Y. 594 (+/- 4 percent); Ohio 434 (+/- 4.7 percent); Okla. 506 (+/- 4.4 percent); Texas 519 (+/- 4.3 percent); and Va. 525 (+/- 4.2 percent).

The report can be found at: http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/SS_2016_Report.pdf

The full questionnaire can be found at:
http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/SS2016_Quaire.pdf

In Suit Against Clean Power Plan, States May Not Be “Closer To The People”

Twenty-six states have joined a lawsuit against the federal government to stop its Clean Power Plan (CPP), which requires states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions two percent a year. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on September 27.

It is often said that states are closer to the people than the federal government, but are the states that are party to this suit really representing the majority of their voters? A new in-depth survey, conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, reveals that even with balanced information about the plan, two-thirds of the voters living in the states suing the government actually favor the Clean Power Plan, only slightly less than the seven-in-ten who favor it nationally.

As part of the survey, respondents went through a ‘policymaking simulation’ in which they were told about the projected increases in the costs of electricity (up to three percent in the short term), and the potential negative effect on jobs and economic growth. But they were also told about the reduced negative health effects of air pollution such as asthma and heart attacks, as well as the reductions in greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. On balance, they favored the deal.

Respondents also evaluated pro and con arguments before coming to their conclusions. All the content of this ‘Citizen Cabinet’ survey was vetted by both Republican and Democratic congressional staffers and other outside groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, before it was fielded, to ensure the information was accurate and the strongest arguments were presented on both sides. The survey was conducted with a representative sample that included 4,394 registered voters nationally and 2,308 in the states that are suing.

Support for the plan is broad but not fully bipartisan. In the states suing the government, 88 percent of Democrats favor the plan, while 45 percent of Republicans approve.

However, if efforts were made to mitigate the effect of the CPP on coal workers and the coal industry, support increases to a large bipartisan majority – 60 percent among Republicans, 94 percent among Democrats, and 77 percent overall. The most popular approach is to help coal workers who lose their jobs (overall 67 percent of voters, Republicans 54 percent, and Democrats 78 percent). However, the idea of subsidizing carbon sequestration to make coal more viable did not win majority support.

The CPP is central to the commitment the United States made at the UN climate conference in Paris, to reduce its greenhouse gases about two percent per year. As this new report also shows, in the states suing the government, seventy percent of registered voters approve of participating in the agreement. Among Republicans 50 percent approve (though 59 percent said the agreement is at least tolerable), while Democrats overwhelmingly approve (88 percent).

If you are wondering what you would conclude, if you were given the best arguments on both sides, you can now go through the same policymaking simulation that the survey respondents did and then share your recommendations with your Congressional representatives. To start, click here.

So, whatever is driving these states to oppose the CPP, it does not appear to be a majority of their voters.

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This op-ed by Steven Kull first appeared at Huffington Post on September 28, 2016



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