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May 10, 2016

The Boston Globe just released a poll and we found out two things: the general public is concerned with one set of issues, and elite interests are preoccupied with another set of issues. There isn’t much overlap, and guess which group is getting more attention.

The poll was conducted for the Globe by Suffolk University and asked what is the most important issue facing Gov. Baker? A menu of options was offered. The most important issues to the public were Jobs 16%, Drugs/Opioids 13%, Education 12%, Infrastructure Repair 10% and on down through nine other possibilities. Six percent thought some unnamed Other issue is most important.

The public is most concerned with jobs but it isn’t clear what that means. According to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the March unemployment rate in Massachusetts was down to 4.4% and the state added 6,900 jobs. The public apparently is still restive but the poll doesn’t tell us why. There is an effort in the state, backed by labor and progressives, to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but we don’t know if that plays any role.

Drugs and Opioids continues to concern people, and Beacon Hill has acted. Good job by Governor Charlie Baker and the legislature.

Education is also an important topic, but we don’t know in what sense it is a concern. Funding, PARCC, K-12, higher education, universal pre-school? To go out on a limb, I’d guess that increasing the number of charter schools isn’t a big issue with the public, but that wasn’t asked specifically.

Infrastructure repair was named by 10% of respondents. Do they mean the MBTA, commuter rail, roads, bridges, government buildings, what?

Five percent named taxes – are those people who think taxes are too high, or people who would like to see the millionaires’ tax pass, or perhaps fail? Millionaires’ tax wasn’t in the randomized list either. 

Millionaires’ tax is in the group of issues being pushed by the elite interests, though. We don’t know how many people think the millionaires’ tax is  an important issue but we know voters favor it (at least they do two and a half years before they could possibly vote on it) by 70%-24%. We’ll have a chance this fall to vote on legalization of marijuana in November and that is close, but we don’t know how many people consider it an important issue. Not many, since it would likely fit in the 6% of Other issues. Same thing with public accommodations for transgender people, heavily favored but apparently not an important issue to the public. Charter schools? Well, maybe some of those 12% who think education is the most important issue are consumed with being for or against charters, but we don’t know that.

It would be cavalier to say the public’s issues are not being addressed, because plenty of things go on without much media attention. (See Senator Jamie Eldridge’s post at Bluemassgroup today.) But it seems that the public is saying we want help on jobs, education, and infrastructure. Beacon Hill and the media are responding we hear you; you want us to push on charter schools, transgender rights, and marijuana.

It’s an interesting phenomena. We just killed off car racing in Boston due to neighborhood opposition, less than a year after the public rolled over Massachusetts’ most powerful business and political leaders to gut the Olympics bid.  Bernie Sanders is going to the Democratic convention with more insurgent delegates than anyone in memory because his attack on party elites has struck a nerve. Donald J. Trump has vanquished his Republican primary opponents while rejecting all sorts of establishment prescriptions.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

Suffolk University poll, Boston Globe poll

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