In a 2013 survey of 2000 American adults, Burson Marsteller focused on the issue of unity among Americans. In the poll, 62% say we are less unified than we were 10 years ago and 3 out of 4 say greater unity is very important. About 20% fear we will not remain one nation.
For the usual right direction/wrong direction mood measure, 59% replied that we are headed in the wrong direction. “Economy and jobs” was the top issue – named by 34%, down from 52% last year. The runner-up issues were government spending, education, immigration, and middle-class decline.
In some arenas, respondents regard disagreement as acceptable: 45% say so of politics and 55% say so of religion. Yet, digging deeper, issues with political or religious dimensions were named as highly divisive – e.g., abortion (85%), gay marriage (81%), homosexuality (80%), gun control (81%), immigration (78%), drugs (65%) and climate change (61%). Politicians earned top blame as agents of divisiveness. Money in politics also figured prominently (59%) as a culprit.
Our economic system received mixed reviews. 59% praise equal opportunity and 68% praise our free market for promoting unity. Four in five feel unity would improve from shrinking the rich-poor gap, and just 40% believe wealthy Americans earned success by working harder – a myth from Occupy Wall Street? A surprising 63% say better unity requires that we shrink the power of corporations.
There were no compelling ideas offered for repairing our tattered unity. The most common suggestions were to hold politicians more accountable (27%), to limit the power of the federal government (22%), and to get Republicans and Democrats to cooperate (22%). The ideas offered were all tasks for “someone else” to take on.
The highly divisive issues — abortion through climate change are centered in intolerance. In each case, one person opposes or is offended by another person’s private behavior or public belief. The pair then refuses to acknowledge a common bond on more important issues or to cooperate in pursuit of shared goals. This is the same self-indulgent intolerance that we criticize in middle-eastern strife.
Somewhere in our upbringing by parents, friends, church or employers we have been shortchanged. We have not been held to a level of character development that equips us with enough tolerance to be worthwhile citizens. Let’s learn to stick to our own knitting!
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Florida and who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research