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


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.


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


As members of Congress come back from their Memorial Day break, some recent press stories might be making their return to Washington particularly unpleasant.

In an Associated Press/NORC poll a dismal 4 percent of Americans said they “have much faith” in Congress. It’s the kind of news that thrills late-night comedians, but in reality a statistic more shameful than funny.

Then came a new tell-all book by the anonymous “Congressman X”, confirming many people’s worst fears about what goes on in the halls of Congress.

X writes, “The average man on the street actually thinks he influences how I vote. Unless it’s a hot-button issue, his thoughts are generally meaningless. I’ll politely listen, but I follow the money.”

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It should be noted, Congressman X is unhappy about the current state of money in politics – it’s why he wrote his book. In fact, it’s true for most members as well. They don’t like to be beholden to special interests; they do want to serve their constituents.

So, how can we help make Congress less dysfunctional and better serve the public good? While it may be easy for a member of Congress to ignore self-selected individuals who contact their representatives, it’s harder to ignore a large, representative sample of their constituents, especially ones that are informed on the issues.  

The ‘Citizen Cabinet’ provides exactly this kind of remedy.

Citizen Cabinets are scientifically selected, representative samples of voters in each state, along with a very large national sample, that go through in-depth surveys on key issues Congress is facing. Citizens are given a briefing on the issue, hear arguments both pro and con on the policy options being debated and then are asked to make their recommendations. The data is gathered, aggregated and analyzed and then presented to members of Congress in very detailed briefings.

Can Citizen Cabinet be effective? The results of the Citizen Cabinet surveys show that citizens are able to fix many of the problems that Congress – constrained by competing special interests – regularly fails to solve. Research confirms the American people are less polarized than Congress and more apt to find common ground. When given correct information, the public as a whole shows remarkable intelligence.

Americans believe, as did the Founders, that the common sense of the people can help break through the polarization and gridlock, find common ground, and help government better serve the common good, not the special interests.

In order to restore public confidence that Congress is listening, it is important for members to know what the people think, and effectively, give them a seat at the table. The voice of reason, coming straight from the People, could go a long way in making Washington work better.


Listening to all the campaign trail chatter of increasing defense spending, one could conclude that deficit reduction has fallen off the political radar. President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for FY2017 also calls for increasing national defense spending (including nuclear weapons) to $537 billion. The Republican leadership is eyeballing at least that much, while numerous members of Congress are pushing for even more.

But, it this what the voters want? According to the results of a new ‘Citizen Cabinet’ survey on the defense spending, the answer is a clear “no,” with majorities even calling for trimming defense.

The innovative survey presented respondents with strongly stated arguments in favor of spending and for reductions and then gave them the opportunity to make up their own defense budget. More than half brought it down to $497 billion or less. Majorities also cut the F-35 fighter program, and proposed reducing the number of aircraft carriers in the fleet.

The survey was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland, and released by the nonpartisan organization, Voice Of the People. A representative panel of more than 7,000 registered voters was recruited from Nielsen Scarborough’s larger probability-based panel.

Respondents went through a unique online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ developed with defense experts and vetted in advance with key Republican and Democratic congressional staffers, for accuracy and balance.

They were given a briefing on the current national defense budget and were presented historical trends. They assessed strongly-asserted arguments in favor of spending and in favor of cutting overall, and for the seven major areas of defense spending. Ultimately, they were asked to modify the amounts budgeted for each area of defense spending, and while doing so, received continual feedback on their totals.

Sixty-one percent made net cuts. Relative to the 2015 national defense spending level (including nuclear weapons) of $509 billion they were presented, the majority cut $12 billion. This included cutting ground forces by $4 billion (or 3 percent), nuclear weapons by $3 billion (13 percent), air power by $2 billion (1.5 percent), naval forces by $2 billion and missile defense by $1 billion (13 percent). Special operations and the Marines were left untouched. No areas were increased.

A majority of Democrats cut $36 billion; independents $20 billion; while there was not majority support for either increases or decreases among Republicans. A majority of African American respondents cut the budget $34 billion; Hispanics $20 billion.

Cutting the F-35 program – saving $6 billion in one year and $97 billion over the next 21 years – was favored by 54 percent. Six-in-ten approved of reducing the numbers of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10, a savings of $7 billion over the next ten years.

Some programs fared better. The controversial proposal for a new long-range stealth bomber called Next Generation to replace the B-2 bomber (which would cost $32 billion over the next ten years) was approved by 55 percent. Cutting back the number of planned nuclear submarines from 12 to 8 was rejected by 54 percent of respondents.

If you would like to weigh in America’s defense spending, here’s your chance: The same defense budget simulation our representative panels completed is now posted online here. In the end, you can forward your recommendations to your representatives in Congress.

It’s an understatement to say Americans are expressing a lot of dissatisfaction with government. Polls indicate voters from both ends of the spectrum are voicing a mutual concern: our representatives in Washington are not listening to their constituents, but rather the special interests that write big checks and fill campaign coffers.

This survey is one more piece of evidence that voters’ concern that their leaders are out of step with the people is warranted.

Steven Kull

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This article first appeared at The Huffington Post on Wednesday, May 25, 2016

 


President Barack Obama released his 2016-17 budget and Republican leaders in Congress immediately pronounced it dead on arrival. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the Budget Committee will not even hold a hearing on the president’s budget this year.

What will likely follow is a series of partisan proposals, designed to play to each side’s political base, that are unlikely to produce a sustainable budget or make meaningful progress in reducing the federal deficit.

This is not what voters in either party want. What’s needed is a way to break the gridlock and produce a budget that can win bipartisan support. What if the public could more effectively weigh in and demand better answers from our leaders?

Voice Of the People, a nonpartisan group, has been working on this very question. It has developed some powerful new online tools through its “Citizen Cabinet” initiative to give people a greater voice on complex issues like the budget. Starting out in three states last year, it has recently expanded to five more, including California.

The California Citizen Cabinet is a scientifically selected online panel of roughly 600 registered voters who will be going through a series of policy-making simulations on key issues facing Congress, including one just completed on the federal budget. Participants get a briefing on the issue, are presented options Congress is considering with pro and con arguments for each, then are asked to make their choices.

All the materials are reviewed in advance by top Democratic and Republican staff experts in Congress and various outside groups to make sure the information is accurate and unbiased. The offices of California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have been briefed on the results, which also have been distributed to every member of Congress and released to the public.

The findings from the budget survey offer both good news and not-so-good news to congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle. Republicans can point to the fact that Californians in both parties are far more serious about reducing the deficit than Congress or the president, with majorities wanting to cut the deficit by $280 billion next year – more than twice what Obama proposes. Democrats can point to the fact that a majority of Californians support raising taxes on upper-income taxpayers, including a majority of Republicans as well as Democrats.

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This first appeared in The Sacramento Bee on March 14, 2016. To read the full op-ed, click here.

Vic Fazio, who represented California’s 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts from 1979 to 1999, serves on the advisory board of Voice Of the People. He can be contacted at info@vop.org.


Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article65245097.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article65245097.html#storylink=cpy

President Barack Obama and leading Republican presidential candidates have called for increasing defense spending. However, given the opportunity to make their own defense budget, a majority of voters (61 percent) cut defense spending in a new in-depth Citizen Cabinet survey. Not even a majority of Republicans made increases. A report of the survey’s findings, “Rightsizing Defense: The Perspective of the People” was released today.

In the survey, a representative sample of more than 7,000 registered voters across the country were first presented detailed, nonpartisan information and competing arguments about the current defense budget. The majority trimmed annual spending by $12 billion, including ground forces by $4 billion (or 3 percent), nuclear weapons by $3 billion (13  percent), air power by $2 billion (1.5 percent), naval forces by $2 billion (2 percent) and missile defense by $1 billion (13 percent). Special operations and the marines were left untouched. No areas were increased.

A majority of Democrats cut $36 billion, independents $20 billion; while there was not majority support for either increases or decreases among Republicans. African American respondents cut the budget $34 billion; Hispanics cut $20 billion.

In addition, 54 percent of respondents approved of cutting the F-35 program, saving $97 billion through 2037. Reducing the numbers of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10 was approved by six-in-ten, saving $7 billion over the next ten years.

Once the results of the survey are released, a public version of the simulation is posted at vop.org for anyone to try. It can be found here

The survey’s report can be found here

The questionnaire can be found here

A supplemental questionnaire with data for Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and districts MD-7 and OK-4 can be found here

To read more, click here


The latest budget news from Capitol Hill – that the Republicans on the House Budget Committee are postponing markup of the annual tax and spending framework until March – sure sounds like a tune we’ve all heard before. Instead of coming together to move the budget process forward, another round of partisanship is moving us toward gridlock. The net result, instead of coming up with a budget that reduces the deficit the way Congress has agreed they will, Congress is simply kicking the can further down the road.

There is a way to help get beyond the current impasse: members of Congress can look to what an informed representative sample of Americans – called a Citizen Cabinet – has said on the budget and use that as a guide for finding common ground.

Voice Of the People’s recent, national survey of the Citizen Cabinet included nearly 7,000 registered voters and found majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree on measures that would reduce the projected deficit by $52 billion. Yes, actual bipartisan agreement that would cut the deficit.

The in-depth survey was developed by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland and was vetted with congressional staffers from both parties. The panel was recruited by Nielsen Scarborough. Once the survey is completed by the representative panel, the simulation is made available at VOP.org for anyone to try for themselves.

In it, respondents were presented the president’s FY 2016 budget and sources of general revenues, and then given the opportunity to propose their own federal budget. After a briefing on the deficit and hearing strong pro and con arguments whether or not it should be cut, clear majorities agreed on $10 billion in spending cuts. No spending areas were increased by a majority of Americans.

Perhaps even more noteworthy: The biggest deficit reductions came from revenue increases totaling $41 billion that drew bipartisan support. Despite what many in Congress are saying, the American people seem open to a balanced approach that includes both cutting spending and raising taxes (on the wealthy, at least).

The most striking difference between the president’s proposed budget and the people’s budget is that the majority of the people go further than the president in cutting the deficit, even though they had fewer options for making changes. If the president were to get all the changes he proposes – a big if, given congressional dynamics – he would reduce the projected deficit $113 billion for 2017.

The majority of Americans, however, reduce the projected deficit more than twice as much – $277 billion, through a combination of $58 billion in spending cuts and $219 billion in revenue increases. Eighty two percent find convincing the argument that reducing the deficit should be a top priority.

At the same time, the public does have some similarities to Congress, as there were substantial differences between Republicans and Democrats. Their level of spending cuts is similar, but they target different areas; and while Republicans do raise revenues, they do so much less than Democrats.

Nonetheless they are able to find substantial common ground. Majorities of both parties converge on $10 billion of spending cuts, led by cuts to subsidies to agricultural corporations ($3 billion), and followed by $1 billion cuts to seven other programs.

Interestingly, many of the areas of agreement for revenue increases are ones proposed in Obama’s budget. While he is not entirely precise about how he plans to do so, the president proposes increasing revenues from the wealthy by $56 billion in 2017, increasing to twice that amount by 2024. In the survey a majority of both Republicans and Democrats favor a 5 percent increase in the income taxes on incomes over $200,000, generating $34 billion. The overall majority (but not Republicans) go further and raise income taxes on incomes over $1 million by 10 percent, raising the total revenue generated to $49 billion – nearly matching Obama’s proposed short term increase for 2017, but not his long term one.

Very large majorities from both parties also adopt two other ideas that appeared in Obama’s 2016 budget and reappeared this year. One is taxing carried interest as ordinary income (i.e. doing away with the hedge fund manager’s tax break), generating $1.8 billion. Another is requiring large financial institutions to pay a fee of seven-tenths of a percent on their uninsured debt, generating $6 billion.

Another proposal from the president – to raise the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends from 23.8 to 28 percent (yielding $15-22 billion) – is supported by three quarters overall and half of Republicans.

So, when members of Congress complain that finding common ground on the federal budget is too hard a task, it is important to note that the American people can do it – in less than half an hour. Perhaps it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and start listening to the common sense of the American people.

— Steven Kull

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This op-ed first appeared in The Hill on March 1, 2016


“We the People.”

With these three words in his last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama launched into a moving call to fix our democracy and while doing so, perfectly expressed the urgent need for the voice of the American people to be heard more clearly on Capitol Hill.

Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

The president couldn’t be more correct. The Founders knew that our democracy would be best served when it is guided by the common sense of the people, and not special interests that make the noisiest commotion.

That is exactly what we are seeking to do through the Citizen Cabinet process – to give voice to the people as a whole, not just the angry factions or the deep-pocketed influence industry. It was nice to hear the president deliver the message in a speech to the audience most in need of hearing it.


There is a financial crisis facing the U.S. Postal Service. In fiscal 2015, it lost $5.1 billion, even though its revenues were up. Yet, as dire as its financial picture may be, Congress has done little to fix the Postal Service.

So what would ordinary Americans say should be done, if they were in Congress’ shoes? Would they do any better at finding bipartisan agreement on solutions?

In a new survey (pdf), a representative group of 2,256 registered voters — called a “Citizen Cabinet” — went through an online simulation in which they were briefed on the issues, presented with the various options Congress is considering, and then made recommendations on what they would do to fix the Postal Service.

And in fact they did indeed find bipartisan solutions – enough to get the Postal Service out of its current budget hole. The recurring theme was: Let the Postal Service act more like a business.

The survey, sponsored by Voice Of the People and conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, took the participants through an on-line process designed to simulate the debate in Congress. All the information given to participants was vetted in advance by congressional staffers from both parties, the postmaster general, the inspector general, the Letter Carriers Union and others.

The most significant recommendation, made by eight in ten participants, was to dramatically reduce the congressional requirement that the Postal Service fully prefund future retiree health benefits. This requirement is most responsible for the Postal Service’s budget deficits.

Overwhelming majorities believed the argument that ordinary businesses do not achieve such a high prefunding level and the Postal Service should not have this unique requirement. At the same time, they also believed the argument that without prefunding the government might be forced to step in, putting the taxpayers on the hook.

In the end, however, 83 percent recommended lowering the prefunding requirement by at least 20 percent, and greatly extending the time allotted to meet that level.

Even larger majorities – nine in ten – recommended allowing the Postal Service to provide new non-postal products and services. Participants were informed that Postal Service is presently prohibited from offering such products and services. Participants also heard the argument in defense of this prohibition: that the Postal Service would have an unfair advantage relative to private companies offering non-postal products and services.

Nevertheless, large majorities endorsed allowing the Postal Service to provide such services as photocopying, Internet access, money transfers, and an email system.

Other bipartisan recommendations would also allow the Postal Service to act more like a business:

  • About 77 percent  of participants favored allowing the Postal Service to lease its unused space in its warehouses (77 percent  of Republicans and 76 percent  of Democrats agreed with this).
  • About two-thirds, including 72 percent  of Republicans and 63 percent  of Democrats, favored closing as many as 5 percent  of those post offices that are losing money in a given year. However, only about 30 percent are ready to go as far as the Postal Service wants to go, which would be to close the 12 percent  of all post offices that are not profitable.
  • About two-thirds also support ending Saturday letter delivery (while still delivering packages and Priority Mail). This too is supported by majorities of both Republicans (75 percent) and Democrats (60 percent).
  • About 60 percent  favored permitting postal rates to rise faster than inflation, including 56 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats.

The Citizen Cabinet included samples of the nation as a whole and three states: Maryland, Oklahoma and Virginia. (The margin of error for the national panel was +/- 3.7 percent, while for the states it ranged from +/- 4.4 to 4.7 percent.) There was little difference between the specific states: Panelists from the very “red” state of Oklahoma came to the same basic conclusions as those from the very “blue” state of Maryland.

The founders of this country expressed confidence that if the government were to be guided by the common sense of the people, members of Congress would find their way through the shoals of factionalism and make better decisions.

In the case of the Postal Service in the 21st century, the founders appear to be right.

By Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, and president of Voice of the People, a nonpartisan organization that uses innovative survey methods and the Internet to help give the American people a more effective voice in government.

Readers can go through the same policymaking simulation completed by the panelists, and send their recommendations directly to their members of Congress at www.VOP.org/consultations.

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This op-ed first appeared in the Washington Post on Nov. 22, 2015




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