Whats most important to voters

There are two ways to ask questions about “the most important issue or problem.”
The more common technique asks about the most important issue or problem “facing the nation today” (or state or community). The second, less-used approach is to ask about the issue or problem that “your own family worries most about.” Two very different lists of issues or problems result.

There are two ways to ask questions about “the most important issue or problem.”

The more common technique asks about the most important issue or problem “facing the nation today” (or state or community). The second, less-used approach is to ask about the issue or problem that “your own family worries most about.” Two very different lists of issues or problems result.

The first question identifies issues that are officially “most important.” These are the issues politicians and the media talk about, “hot” issues like Iraq, immigration and global warming. The second question uncovers issues real people and families actually worry about. These are what I call “morning issues,” the concerns Americans typically fret about when they open their eyes in the morning. These are issues that keep them tossing and turning and grinding their teeth through the night.

If a politician wants to connect with voters and separate himself from the status quo, he or she would be advised to spend more time talking about these morning issues and less time on the official-issue agenda. It’s called being in touch.

Congress and the national media are often completely out of touch with these morning issues, especially because these personal concerns are often local in nature. They may involve traffic, drought and water restrictions, local crimes or school issues. But sometimes personal issues are genuinely national in  their impact.

Consider something as ubiquitous as the Internet. According to a recent Harris poll, 77 percent of all U.S. adults are going online. The survey found that the average time spent on the Internet is nine hours per week. That’s a lot of time. And people care a lot about the things that occupy their time. Therefore, I’d argue that Internet-related issues are more important than Washington insiders might suspect. Or at least they could be if someone in government focused on them.

If politicians, for example, developed serious plans to do things like limit spam or provide free wi-fi service, as some municipalities are doing, they would enjoy considerable public support. In this vein, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) may be onto something with their Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, which would require online disclosure of federally funded research. A Harris poll conducted in April found that 82 percent of Americans believe that “if tax dollars pay for scientific research, people should have free access to the results of the research on the Internet.”

Besides improved Internet access, the Cornyn-Lieberman bill plays to another morning issue, health fears. Consider the anxiety many people fear about Alzheimer’s disease. A recent Met Life Foundation survey found that many Americans worry a lot about getting Alzheimer’s and feel unprepared to deal with its onset. Wouldn’t fostering free access to federal research into ways that people can avoid Alzheimer’s be a feather in someone’s cap?

Weight loss is another significant health-related concern of most Americans. Federally funded research results telling us what works and doesn’t work would be welcomed by many overweight Web users.

It’s these under-the-radar issues that the public really cares about and that Congress might act on if members just took a closer look at Americans’ real concerns in their polls rather than cataloging the “official” issues of Washington insiders.

Consider the National Do-Not-Call Registry as a proof of concept. Real people once experienced genuine angst about having their family dinners interrupted by telemarketers. Government responded to the squeaky wheel. Now you can get off the telemarketers’ lists. A politician who could realistically claim credit for the registry could probably run for president and win.

Someone in government actually did something that real people really care about. More politicians should try it.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.