As we enter an election year and folks start tuning into politics again, it’s important to remember we have more in common than not — especially when it comes to money.
Proof is in the recently released American Family Survey, which polled 3,000 people about everything from immigration to divorce.
Some of the demographic breakdowns are obvious: Younger Americans are more tolerant of shacking up before marriage, for instance. The good stuff is the surprising overlap between Democrats and Republicans on welfare, paid leave, and other financial issues.
Where we agree
Liberals like Bernie Sanders love to point out we’re the only “major country” that doesn’t mandate paid family leave. But “even Republicans support paid maternity leave of nearly four months,” the study found. That’s a big leap from the three months of unpaid leave the law currently makes available, even if Democrats would rather see something closer to six months.
The study also asked voters whether several federal programs are helpful to families, including food stamps, Medicaid, and some tax breaks. Again, support is there you might not expect — especially among Republicans who’ve used them.
“Even the Republicans who have not benefitted from these programs tend to evaluate them as neutral for families,” the study concluded. “Food stamps and housing assistance do dip below fifty [percent support] among that group,” but just barely.
Ready to get things done
How can there be so much agreement when a new Pew Research poll shows most Americans from both major parties feel like “their side is losing,” when the country’s the most polarized in decades, with all the made-for-TV bickering we see in Congress and the news? And how can there be so little action?
The American Family Survey suggests a possible reason for the first question. Political affiliation may shape our beliefs, but doesn’t drastically change the way we live…
“Although liberals and conservatives have markedly different ideological attitudes about family and marriage, their lived family experiences are almost exactly the same. There are no significant divides between liberals and conservatives in their personal marriage and family practices. They tend to engage in most of the same activities at the same rates, including how often they go out together, talk about finances, have an argument, or eat dinner as a family, among other practices.”
Indeed, another recent Pew poll found 41 percent of Republican primary voters are more likely to support a presidential candidate who wants to compromise with Democrats. (Only 27 percent are less likely; the rest say it doesn’t matter.) Meanwhile, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters are more likely to support a candidate ready to work with Republicans.
A third of Republicans (and more than a third of current Donald Trump supporters) would also be more likely to support a candidate who wants higher taxes on the wealthy. Who knew?
Red, blue, and green
The same poll found the economy is the central election issue for 83 percent of voters. That matches up, although from a different angle, with the American Family Survey’s findings. The AFS asked about the biggest challenges in raising kids, and found “the costs associated with raising a family” fell behind self-blame (“not teaching or disciplining enough”) and roughly tied with the “availability of drugs and alcohol.”
As for why we aren’t seeing the changes most people want sooner? It might be as simple as this: We don’t talk enough about money during election season. Not who’s secretly bankrolling the candidates, or who’s raising the most cash from small donors, or even how to fix the deficit. That happens every day, for all the good it’s done.
We have to talk about the issues we usually keep close to ours hearts — our financial struggles to provide for our families, the debts we take on to stay afloat. And we have to do it without the cynicism we’ve seen over a proposed “living wage” or with Occupy Wall Street’s outcry over student loans.
This isn’t a partisan issue. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be differences of opinion, but those conflicts might actually be productive instead of blocking progress. Only a third of Americans consider the cost of raising a family affordable, according to the American Family Survey. Hopefully we can be a small part of the solution.