Roundup of public opinion, 2018

December 22, 2018

A little more than 20 years ago, Club Soc at California State University, Bakersfield, sponsored a colloquium featuring my friend Dr. Earl Babbie, who chaired the Department of Sociology at Chapman University at the time. Earl is the author of many articles and books on public opinion, and his “The Practice of Social Research” is required reading almost everywhere.


At the session, he told the audience of faculty, students, and community members that one person’s opinion is as good as any other person’s opinion. The reason, of course, is that opinions are different from facts. And research has shown that we are a nation of conflicting opinions. Here are some that were uncovered this past year.

Societal change


In some ways, we are becoming a more tolerant society. The Gallup organization found that two of every three persons surveyed supported same-sex marriage. Gallup has been tracking opinions on this subject for decades, and 2018 set a record high on the approval scale. Moreover, Propeller Insights found that more than half (55 percent) of respondents believe that it’s okay with them if co-workers are gay.


At the same time, certain prejudices still exist.  The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that nearly three of every four people sampled think that there is widespread anti-black racism, and one-third believe that there is “reverse discrimination” against whites.


A poll taken by the Wall Street Journal showed that most people (61 percent) believe that immigration helps the nation, and this is up from 49 percent in 2015. But, we Americans just don’t trust the government. The National Opinion Research Council (NORC) at University of Chicago found that 77 percent of its sample was dissatisfied with Congress. That fits with the 75 percent of people who have little or no confidence in elected officials.


We are divided according to political party, and that division has brought about a devolution to stereotypes. Axios, a news and information website, used results from Survey Monkey to conclude that more than half (54 percent) of Democrats are of the opinion that Republicans are ignorant. The same survey revealed that nearly half (49 percent) of Republicans held the same opinion of Democrats.


The shoe was on the other foot when it came to political motives. Only 21 percent of Democrats thought that Republicans were evil; 23 percent of Republicans attributed the same characteristic to Democrats. This probably explains why Pew Research found that more than half (53 percent) of all Americans are uncomfortable when discussing politics with someone who holds different opinions.

The President


The NORC found that 77 percent of Americans are wary of the state of politics in America. Just as we don’t trust our elected leaders, we don’t trust voters. Pew Research found that 56 percent “aren’t confident in the political wisdom of the American people.” Nearly 7 out of 10 (69 percent) of respondents to a PRRI poll believe that Donald Trump has negatively affected the dignity of the office of President of the United States, and Politico found that 36 percent think that his words have encouraged violence.


In a fairy tale, subjects worried, but said nothing, about their emperor who wore no clothes. In contemporary United States, people are fixated by the President’s hair. Public Policy Polling discovered that 37 percent think it’s natural; 30 percent believe it’s a toupee; 37 percent just aren’t sure what to think.

Santa Claus


I’m pretty sure that we all know at least one person who does not believe in Santa Claus. This person is a Grinch. But, that’s just my opinion.


Most of us agree with Francis Pharcellus Church who wrote an editorial for the New York Sun in 1897. His opinion column was a response to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, whose friends questioned the existence of Santa. Her father said that if the Sun reported that Santa Claus exists, she’d know it was true. Church’s second paragraph began, “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.”


Of course he exists. But, he may soon have to prepare presents on a barge and use inflatable reindeer (like you see on some lawns) because they can float. And that’s an opinion. However, it is supported by facts.


The Arctic Circle is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year at this time, the Arctic was between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit above its average, with some days in February hitting 35 degrees. As ice melts, it creates a cascading effect.


Ice acts like a mirror, reflecting the sun’s rays back into space. The dark ocean, on the other hand, absorbs the sun’s heat. Moreover, if the ice melts down to the permafrost, huge amounts of trapped carbon dioxide (a “greenhouse gas”) are released into the atmosphere. This traps even more heat, and the cycle becomes a spiral, turning faster and faster as events begin to multiply. Today, there are about a million fewer square miles of arctic ice as there were in the 1990s.


Why don’t the nations of the world jump in and pass the legislation that’s necessary to keep Santa’s workshop on a solid ice base? Well, part of the reason seems to be economic. As the ice melts, it opens possible channels right through the North Pole (or its neighborhood). These new channels allow for more direct shipping across the top of the world between Asia and Europe as well as between Asia and North America.


Quicker shipping routes means less expensive transportation, and that means bigger profits for huge corporations. But, that’s not even the biggest prize. It is believed that about 90 billion barrels of oil and one-fifth of the world’s natural gas are trapped beneath the Arctic ice sheet.


With that kind of potential wealth at stake, our opinions about Santa’s safety or the safety of the world, for that matter, are of little consequence to those who hold the power to make decisions about the fate of the North Pole. And, that’s a fact.


• • •


Jim Glynn may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net. Club Soc at CSU, Bakersfield, sponsored a colloquium by Glynn the following year, and his presentation, “The History and Politics of Immigration,” nearly started a fist fight between the department chairman and a member of the faculty. That, too, is a fact.

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