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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls Week Ending June 14

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fortunately for us, the Founding Fathers weren’t worried about offending the British, and we still enjoy the resulting freedoms to this day. Or do we? A surprising number of Americans aren’t so sure.

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich's recent forced resignation over a political contribution he made three years ago in support of traditional marriage prompted even leading gay columnist Andrew Sullivan to say political correctness has gone too far. Only 22% of Americans think we have true freedom of speech today. Seventy-four percent (74%) think instead that Americans have to be careful not to say something politically incorrect to avoid getting in trouble. 

Sixty-two percent (62%) worry, too, that school textbooks today are more concerned with presenting information in a politically correct manner than accurately providing information to students.

While most Americans are concerned about so-called hate speech, just 29% think a ban on such speech is a good idea. Eighty-two percent (82%) think it is more important to give people the right to free speech than it is to make sure no one is offended by what others say.

But 54% of voters now consider the federal government a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector.

Forty-two percent (42%) of Americans think most people who get involved in politics do so to protect themselves from what the government might do. Slightly fewer (39%) think most turn to politics to make the country a better place. Eighteen percent (18%) are not sure.

Just 19% think the government today has the consent of the governed.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is pressing forward on its own with new restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, mostly ones fuelled by coal. Yet while most voters (57%) approve of the EPA’s new regulations, just 30% think the agency should be able to move ahead on energy controls like this without Congress’ approval

Most voters also continue to have an unfavorable opinion of the new national health care law. Only 16% say they personally have been helped by the law, while 31% say they have hurt by it instead. 

More voters than ever (63%) think it is unlikely that most of the current problems with the law will be fixed within the next year. But voters remain closely divided over how the health care law will influence their vote in the November congressional election.

Republicans are counting on both these issues to help them pick up the six seats they need to take control of the U.S. Senate. The new coal restrictions are already at play in the Senate races in Kentucky and West Virginia. The health care law is front and center in the races in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, but add Montana and South Dakota to that list, too. Opposition to Obamacare is higher in all those states than it is nationally. Other than Kentucky, all these Senate seats are now held by Democrats.

In this week’s polling, we find that Republican Congressman Steve Daines has moved to an 18-point lead over interim Senator John Walsh in the U.S. Senate race in Montana. Former Governor Mike Rounds still leads his Democratic opponent Rick Weiland by double digits in South Dakota’s U.S. Senate race, but Republican-turned-Independent Larry Pressler has made the race a bit closer. 

At the same time, incumbent Democrat Mark Warner has opened up a slightly larger lead over Republican challenger Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race.

Democrats lead Republicans again on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot

The biggest political news of the week, though, was challenger Dave Brat’s win over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Virginia. Cantor’s loss, depending on whom you listen to, was due to Cantor’s poor constituent services, his shifting stance on immigration reform or the influence of the Tea Party movement. Or all of the above.

In a survey conducted just prior to Cantor’s defeat, Republicans show slightly less enthusiasm for the Tea Party and its potential impact on this year’s elections. Thirty-three percent (33%) of GOP voters still think the Tea Party will help their party in the November elections, while 37% say it will hurt the party’s candidates instead. But 75% continue to believe it’s important for Republicans in Congress to work with the Tea Party.

In other news this week, public opinion is shifting away from support for the prisoner swap that brought U.S. POW Bowe Bergdahl home from Afghanistan. 

At mid-week, the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes which measure daily confidence in both groups hit their highest levels in seven years. They remain near their highs for this year and well ahead of findings since the Wall Street meltdown in the fall of 2008.

Forty-eight percent (48%) of Working Americans believe they will be earning more money a year from today. That’s the highest level of optimism in nearly five years.

No major changes in President Obama’s daily job approval rating, however. He’s still tracking at levels we’ve seen for much of his presidency.

Our first look at three gubernatorial races, following the party primaries in those states, shows three potential routs, but there’s a lot of time until Election Day.

Republican Governor Robert Bentley is far ahead of Democratic challenger Parker Griffith in his bid for reelection in Alabama. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has an equally impressive lead over Republican challenger Neel Kashkari in California. Republican incumbent Dennis Daugaard posts a 20-point lead over Democratic challenger Susan Wismer in South Dakota's race for governor

In other surveys this week:

-- Thirty percent (30%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. Sixty-two percent (62%) think it is headed down the wrong track.

-- But 84% consider themselves patriotic Americans. Among this group, 94% claim to know the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and 80% oppose replacing it with an easier-to-sing anthem.

-- Sixty percent (60%) of all Americans say they or someone in their family displays the flag on most national holidays, and even more think children should honor the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning. 

-- Eighty-five percent (85%) of Americans think wearable computers like Google Glass are likely to violate the privacy of others, and a sizable number would be more likely to patronize a bar or restaurant that bans Google Glass.

-- Virgin Galactic has announced that it will begin commercial passenger space flights as early as the end of this year, and 39% of Americans are ready to go if they can afford it. 

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