National Conventions Find Little Common Ground
By Lowman S. Henry
Harrisburg — A survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research of Pennsylvania’s delegations to the Republican and Democrat National Conventions found little agreement between the two parties on either national priorities or solutions to the problems which confront America.
The Lincoln Institute’s survey of Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Republican and Democrat national conventions found pronounced differences on national issues, but the gap became even wider when state policy questions were tested.
“This should come as little surprise in a state which has elected a General Assembly in recent years which has been almost evenly divided between the two parties,” said Lowman S. Henry, Chairman of the Lincoln Institute. “Like their counterparts in Harrisburg, those elected by their parties to represent them at the national questions have fundamentally different approaches to government.”
For example, 74% of the Republicans surveyed said they view government as an adversarial force while only 11% saw Uncle Sam in a positive light. Democrats, on the other hand, say the Federal government is a positive force (71%), while only 18% see the national government in an adversarial role.
About the only issue which united the Delegates and Alternates from the two parties was the importance they placed on economic growth, although there was little agreement on how to achieve that growth.
Republican Delegates and Alternates placed economic growth at the top of their list of national concerns (8.4 on a scale of 0 to 9, with 9 being most important), Democrats ranked economic growth second (7.6) — tied with their desire for health care reform and slightly behind their concern over crime (7.8%).
A wide gulf exists between the two groups of convention-goers on the Republican’s second-highest national priority, balancing the federal budget. Republicans gave balancing the budget an 8.0 ranking, while Democrats only placed a 4.7 ranking on the issue.
The biggest policy difference between the two parties came on the issue of capital gains tax cuts. Republicans gave the issue a 7.2 ranking — third on their priority list. Democrats only gave the issue a 1.8 rating.
Democrat Delegates and Alternates voiced strong concern over job security (7.3). Republican concerns over job security were somewhat less at 5.6.
On the issue of national defense, Republicans and Democrats again found little common ground. Republicans gave the issue a 7.5 ranking while Democrats only placed a 4.6 rating on national defense.
Both Republicans and Democrats gave their lowest ranking on the priority scale to the issue of term limits. Democrats gave the issue a 2.3 while Republicans gave it a 4.7 ranking.
National Policy Issues
Republican Delegates and Alternates who responded to the Lincoln Institute survey were unanimously in support of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. Democrats were split, 67% voiced opposition to a balanced budget amendment while 33% support an amendment.
The idea of a flat tax got mixed reviews from both groups of Delegates/Alternates. Asked if they would favor or oppose a flat tax which eliminates ALL deductions, 64% of Republicans said they would favor such a proposal, while 35 opposed the idea. A majority of Democrats, 78% oppose a flat tax which eliminates all deductions with 22% supporting such a plan.
When asked if they would support a flat tax plan that retains limited mortgage interest and charitable donation deductions, support grew in both parties. 81% of Republicans gave a favorable nod to such a plan while Democrat support grew to 32. Still, a solid majority of Democrats, 68% opposed the concept of a flat tax.
The ideas of national sales or value added taxes garnered little support from either groups of Delegates/Alternates, but the two groups did find some common ground on the establishment of tax- free savings accounts to help save money for first-time home purchases, college education and/or medical expenses.
Among Republicans, 97% support the concept of tax-free savings accounts as did a majority (78%) of Democrats. Both groups also support the concept of fundamental tax reform, without adding to the Federal deficit. 86% of Republicans and 92% support such reform.
There is no agreement, however, on increasing the Federal minimum wage. Republicans overwhelming (77%) oppose such an increase, while Democrats nearly unanimously support (97%) an increase in the Federal minimum wage.
Republicans are far more united in how they would deal with cutting the Federal budget deficit. 74% of Republicans feel Congress should rely on spending cuts without any tax increases. Another 20% of the Republican Delegates and Alternates say Congress should rely on spending cuts with some tax increases and 6% support an even mix of spending cuts and tax increases.
There is more support among Democrats for tax increases. Only 11%of the Democrat Delegates/Alternates feel there should be no tax increases while 26% say Congress should enact mostly spending cuts and some tax increases. 22% of Democrats support an even mixture of the two remedies while 33% say Congress should rely mostly on tax increases and 4% oppose any spending cuts at all.
Delegates/Alternates from both parties voiced general support for free trade policies. But, a majority of Democrats (53%) say they oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement while a majority of Republicans (81%) say they support the agreement. 70% of Republicans support expanding NAFTA to include the countries of South America while 57% of Democrats oppose such expansion. They was also strong Republican support (81%) for the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT). 61% of Democrats also support GATT.
The two groups of Delegates/Alternates take a significantly different view of environmental issues. 69% of Democrats agreed with the statement: “Damage to the environment should be avoided no matter what it costs”. 91% of Republicans disagreed with that statement. 64% of Republican Delegates/Alternates feel environmental protection is costing too much and leads to a loss of jobs. 96% of Democrats disagreed with that position. Both groups, 90% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats, agreed that “environmental protection is an important goal that should be balanced against economic costs”.
On the issue of placing term limits on members of Congress, Democrats have clearly are opposed (71%), while Republicans strongly support (69%) such limits. A slim majority of Republicans, 51%, oppose banning political action committees (PACs), while slightly more Democrat (57%) take the same position. 74% of Democrats also support taxpayer funding of Congressional elections while a majority (71%) of Republicans oppose such funding.
State Policy Issues
Democrat and Republican Delegates/Alternates found a rare area of agreement on state policy issues in their feeling that the property tax-based system used to fund governments services is basically unfair. 77% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats labeled the system as such.
The Delegates/Alternates from both parties even agreed that property/real estate taxes should be replaced by a local tax on earned income. 64% of Democrats and 68 of Republicans hold that view.
Republicans also favor (56%) replacing local property/real estate taxes with a local sales tax. Democrats don’t. 50% oppose local sales taxes, only 39% favor them. Given a choice between a local earned income or a local sales tax, 51% of Republicans chose the earned income tax, 40% the sales tax. 69% of Democrats also the earned income tax, only 27% selected the local sales tax. 68% of Democrat Delegates/Alternates and 51% of Republican Delegates/Alternates favor allowing school districts, municipal and county governments having the power to enact a combination of property/real estate taxes, local earned income and local sales taxes.
When it comes to the state’s personal income tax, 61% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans think the level of taxation is “about right”. No such agreement exists on the level of business taxation. 86% of Republicans think business taxes are too high, only 22% of Democrats hold that view. Given the choice between cutting business or personal income taxes, 74% of Republicans said they would cut business taxes, 79% of Democrats said they would cut personal income taxes.
The issue of taxpayer financing of sports stadiums has cropped up in several Pennsylvania cities. Don’t look to either party’s delegation for tax dollars. 80% of Republicans and 68% of Democrat Delegates/Alternates said government should not provide support for profit-seeking entertainment businesses, such as sports teams, by building structures such as stadiums.
There is a clear difference of opinion between the two delegations when it comes to education reform issues. For example, 83% of Republicans support the concept of school choice, 71% of Democrats oppose it. 77% of Republicans support Governor Ridge’s plan to make available Educational Opportunity Grants for students who wish to attend a public school in a district other than their district of residence. Democrats are evenly split, 46% for and 46% against that proposal.
Republican Delegates/Alternates also favor (71%) Educational Opportunity Grants for students who want to attend a parochial school. Exactly the same percentage of Democrats oppose the concept. 77% of Republicans say Educational Opportunity grants should be made available for students to attend non-parochial private schools. Again, 71% said no.
The closest the two groups of Delegates/Alternates came on agreement to an education reform issues was on the concept of charter public schools. Republicans overwhelmingly (86%) support the concept. Democrats support charter schools by a narrow 42%-38% margin, with 19% undecided.
What to privatize a public school? You’ll get strong support (86%) from the Republican Delegation and a fight from 57% of the Democrats who oppose the idea. When it comes to giving local school boards the ability to hire and retain staff, including teachers, on the basis of performance, 91% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats reached a rare point of agreement in favor of the idea.
Outcomes Based Education (OBE) has been hotly debated for years in Pennsylvania. 73% of Republican Delegates/Alternates say the oppose OBE, 52% of Democrats support the concept.
Generally, Republican Delegates/Alternates don’t think our public school system is doing too well. 71% say schools are doing a worse job educating our young people than they did 10 years ago. 24% say school are doing “about the same” and only 3% say schools are doing a better job. 43% of Democrats agree school are doing a worse job than they did 10 years ago and 36% say they’re doing “about the same”. But, 21% of Democrats give the public schools credit for doing a better job.
Democrats also feel (71%) not enough money is being spent on public education in Pennsylvania. 59% of Republicans feel too much money is being spent.
Asked to give public education a letter grade, no Republican Delegate/Alternate gave the school an “A,” 9% gave school a “B,” 42% assigned a “C,” 39% a “D” and 9% gave public education a failing grade. Democrats gave public education higher marks. 7% said public schools deserved an “A,” 29% gave them a “B,” 39% a “C,” 18% a “D” and 7% gave public education an “F”.
Want to really start a fight? Ask the two delegations whether or not they support a Right-to-Work Law for Pennsylvania. 85% of Republicans (64% strongly favor, 21% somewhat favor) enactment of a Right-to-Work Law. All (61%) Democrats opposing a Right-to-Work Law said they strongly opposed it. Only 15% of Republican Delegates/Alternates oppose Right-to-work while 39% of Democrats voiced support.
Requirements for state workers, teachers and municipal employees to become union members as a condition of employment drew opposition from 94% of the Republican Delegate/Alternates. Conversely, 78% of Democrats support so-called “Agency Shop” requirements. Republicans also think (91%) government workers should be prohibited from going on strike as a condition of employment. 75% of Democrat Delegates/Alternates disagreed.
Both party delegations voiced a favorable view of the work being done by non-profit charitable organizations in our state. 85% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans gave a thumbs up to the non-profits.
On the issue of requiring non-profit organizations such as churches, YMCA/YWCA, homeless shelters, hospitals, etc. to pay property taxes or fees in lieu of property taxes, 49% of Republican Delegates/Alternates said non-profits should not be forced to pay while 43% said they should pay, 9% offered no opinion. 48%, of Democrats said non-profits should not have to pay property taxes. An equal number said they should have to pay.
Democrat Delegates/Alternates strongly support revenue sharing (54%) as the best means to send Federal grants to state and local governments. 36% supported the current program-specific method and 11% thought block grants were best.
49% of Republicans gave the nod to block grants with another 20% supporting revenue sharing. No Republican Delegate or Alternate Delegate supported program-specific grantmaking. But 17% of Republicans did say state and local governments should use their own taxing authority to raise funds rather than get money from the Federal government.
When it comes to providing social services, Democrats place most of their faith in the abilities of county governments (38%) and the Federal government (31%). Another 19% said municipal governments do the best job and only 4% gave state government credit for doing well.
Republicans agreed that county government was best (33%), but felt municipal governments (30%) also did well. 12% of Republicans said state government operates the most efficiently in providing social services. Only 6% chose the Federal government.