Americans’ Progressive Opinion vs. “The Shadow Cast on Society By Big Business”

Barack Obama and John McCain are preparing to wage a hotly contested battle in which neither heavily business-sponsored presidential candidate will question the underlying fundamentals of corporate-neoliberal rule and United States world-supremacist militarism.  As this narrow-spectrum competition proceeds, it will be worth remembering that the U.S. citizenry stands well to the left of America’s Orwellian corporate media and political class on numerous key issues.

As Noam Chomsky told David Barsamian in January of 2007, "there is a lot of talk right now about how the United States is a divided country.  We have to bring it together, ‘red states’ and ‘blue states.’ In fact, it is a divided country, but not in the way that’s being discussed.  It’s divided between the public and the power systems, the government and the corporate system… Right now," Chomsky rightly added, "the major fissure [in the U.S.] is the basic split between the public and the country’s real power sectors.  Both of the political parties and the business sector are well to the right of the population on a host of major issues" (Noam Chomsky, What We Say Goes [New York: Metropolitan, 2007] p.95).

For a useful summary of Americans’ progressive majority opinions on key policy issues, see Katherine Adams and Charles Derber’s recent book "The New Feminized Majority" (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008). As Adams and Derber suggest, a vast amount of polling data contradicts the widespread assumption that the U.S. is a conservative and imperialist country when it comes to the actual citizenry, a very different category than the nation’s political and policy-making class.

Here are some key poll findings mentioned in the instructive fourth chapter of Adams and Derber’s study: 

* 69 percent of U.S. voters agree that "government should care for those who cannot care for themselves" (Pew Research, 2007).

* 54 percent of voters agree that "government should help the needy even if it means greater debt" (Pew Research, 2007).

* 58 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government should be doing more for its citizens, not less (National Elections Survey, 2004).

* Twice as many Americans back more government services and spending (even if this means a tax increase) as the number who support fewer services and reduced spending (National Elections Survey, 2004).

* 64 percent of Americans would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens (CNN Opinion Research Poll, May 2007).

* 69 percent of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide health coverage to all U.S.  citizens (Gallup Poll, 2006).

* 80 percent of Americans support a government-mandated increase in the minimum wage (Associated Press/AOL Poll, December 2006).

* 86 percent of Americans want Congress to pass legislation to raise the federal minimum wage (CNN, August 2006).

* 71 percent of Americans think that taxes on corporations are too low (Gallup Poll, April 2007).

* 66 percent of Americans think taxes on upper-income people are too low (Gallup Poll, April 2007).

* 59 percent of Americans are favorable toward unions, with just 29 percent unfavorable (Gallup Poll, 2006).

* 52 percent of Americans generally side with unions in labor disputes.  Just 34 percent side with management (Gallup Poll, 2006).

* 57 percent of Americans want to keep abortion legal in all or most cases (Washington Post/ABC News, 2007).

* 78 percent of Americans think "women should have an equal role with men in running business, industry, and government" (National Elections Survey, 2004).

* 57 percent of Americans support programs which "give special preference to qualified women and minorities in hiring" (Pew Poll, 2003).

* A majority of American voters think that the United States’ "most urgent moral question" is either "greed and materialism" (33 percent) or "poverty and economic injustice" (31 percent). Just 16 percent identify abortion and 12 percent pick gay marriage as the nation’s "most urgent moral question" (Zogby, 2004). Thus, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the population think that injustice and inequality are the nation’s leading "moral issues."

* 67 percent of Americans think the U.S. should emphasize diplomatic and economic means over military methods in combating terrorism (Public Agenda and Foreign Affairs, 2007). 

* Just 15 percent of Americans think the U.S. should play "the leading role in the world" (Gallup Poll. February 2007) – a remarkable rejection of U.S. global hegemony and empire.

* 58 percent of Americans think the U.S. should play "a major role but not the leading role in the world" (Gallup Poll, February 2007).

* 62 percent of Americans in September of 2007 thought the invasion of Iraq was "a mistake" (CBS News, September 2007).

* A majority of Americans want a firm deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (Washington Post/ABC News, February 2007).

* 70 percent of Americans want a multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty (Pew Poll, November 2005).


Here are some other relevant survey findings not reported in Adams and Derber’s book: 

* "When voters surveyed were asked to list the moral issue that most affected their vote, the Iraq War placed first at 42 percent, while 13 percent named abortion and 9 percent named gay marriage" [1].

* 73 percent of Americans think preventing the spread of nuclear weapons should be a very important goal of U.S. foreign policy, compared to 50 percent who think maintaining a superior military worldwide should be a very important goal (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations [hereafter "CCFR"], "Global Views," October 2004). Survival here trumps hegemony as a top global aim  for citizens.

* Just 29 percent of Americans support the expansion of government spending on "defense."  By contrast, 79 percent support increased spending on health care, 69 percent support increased spending on education, and 69 percent support increased spending on Social Security (CCFR, "Global Views,"2004).

* 58 percent of Americans in 2004 did not think the U.S. should have long-term military bases in Iraq (CCFR, 2004).

* 59 percent of Americans in 2004 thought the U.S. should remove its military presence form the Middle East if that’s what the majority of people there want (CCFR, 2004).

* 72 percent of Americans in 2004 thought the U.S. should remove its military presence form Iraq if that’s what the majority of people there want (CCFR, 2004)[2].

* To counter terrorism, 87 percent of Americans think the U.S. should work through the United Nations (UN) to strengthen international law and make sure that the UN enforces that law; 67 percent think the U.S. should work to develop poor economies; 64 percent think the U.S. should make a major effort to be even-handed in the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Just 29 percent think the U.S. should use torture to extract information from terrorists.

* 77 percent of Americans think the U.S. has the unilateral right to go to war only if the U.S. has strong evidence it is in imminent danger of being attacked (53 percent) or (24 percent)if the other country attacks first (CCFR, 2004). 

* 89 percent of Americans reject the United States’ right to overthrow a government supporting terrorists who might pose a threat to the U.S. without UN approval (CCFR, 2004).

* 79 percent of Americans reject the first use of nuclear weapons and 22 percent reject the use of nuclear weapons ever (CCFR, 2004).

* Two thirds (66 percent) of Americans think the US should be more willing to make international relations decisions within the UN even if this means the U.S. will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not it first choice (CCFR, 2004).

* Fifty-nine percent of Americans favor dropping the veto power granted to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States  (CCFR, 2004).

* Fifty-seven percent of Americans favor general compliance with the decisions of the World Court, not just case-by-case (as under current US policy) compliance (CCFR, 2004).

* Seventy-four percent of Americans favor giving the UN a standing peacekeeping force selected, trained, and commanded by the UN (CCFR, 2004).

* Fifty-seven percent of Americans favor giving the UN the right to regulate the international arms trade (CCFR, 2004).

* Seventy-six percent of Americans think the US should participate in the International Criminal Court, with powers to try individual American military and other officials for war crimes even if their own country will not prosecute them of such crimes (CCFR, 2004).

* Seventy-one percent of Americans think the US should participate in the Kyoto Accord on global warming (CCFR, 2004).

* Ninety-three percent of Americans support minimum standards in international trade agreements for working conditions and 91 percent support minimum standards for environmental protection.


It is questionable how much these and other [3] progressive policy positions held by the American majority matter under the existing U.S. elections and media systems and political culture. Today as ever there exists a fundamental life and death contradiction between the doctrinally (and falsely) conflated realities of (i) capitalism and (ii) democracy. "Politics," as John Dewey noted early in the previous century, "is the shadow cast on society by big business." 

American progressives will find credible reasons to advocate reforms and to work for the election of Obama, an openly centrist "corporate figurehead" (Chris Hedges, "Corporate America Hearts Obama," Truthdig, April 30, 2008) who is being pushed yet further to the right by dominant Orwellian (and Aldous Huxlean and Herbert Marcusean) media [4]. But reforms and superficially reformist candidates will not suffice to create a democratic political culture under the current imperial plutocracy. Radical structural change is required – something that involves dedicated activism across and between the masters’ corporate-crafted and candidate-centered election spectacles. 


Paul Street ([email protected]) is a veteran radical historian and independent author, activist, researcher, and journalist in Iowa City, IA. His next book is Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, August 2008).Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm 2005); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge 2005): and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman&Littlefied 2007). 


1. Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), p. 228, citing a national poll cited in The Boston Globe, 27 November, 2004.

2. "By 2004," Anthony Arnove noted in 2006, "a survey conducted by USA Today, CNN and the Gallup Organization found that 71 percent of Iraqis considered foreign troops to be occupiers, a number that rises to 81 percent the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. A poll released by the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies in May 2004 found that 92 percent of Iraqis viewed foreign troops as occupiers, and 2 percent saw them as liberators.  In the same poll, only 7 percent of Iraqis expressed confidence in ‘coalition forces’ led by the United States." A poll commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence in August of 2005 found that fully 82 percent of Iraqis were "’strongly opposed’ to the presence of foreign troops and that less than 1 percent believed the troops were "responsible for improvement in security." See Anthony Arnove, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (New York: New Press, 2006), pp.28-29; Chomsky, Failed States, p. 164.

3. For example, large U.S. majorities have long held that corporations hold excessive power in the U.S.

4. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright card and other ploys (the American flag lapel pin card and the "Michelle Obama isn’t proud of her country" card, etc.) will be used to move Obama ever closer to the GOP side of the partisan "divide."

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