Divergent Views of National Institutions

It seems to me….

The greatest failure is that although we have created institutions, we have not created a civil society.” ~ Paddy Ashdown[1].

Republicans and Democrats offer starkly different assessments of the impact of several of the nation’s leading institutions – including the news media, colleges and universities, and churches and religious organizations. On a number of subject areas, conservatives seem to be a bit off in La‑La‑Land. There should not be any doubt or question as to whether the national news media and higher education are among the most positive influences on our country[2].

Republicans, by about eight-to-one (10 percent approval to 85 percent disapproval), say the news media has a negative effect in contrast with Democrats who have a more mixed opinion (46 percent approval to 44 percent disapproval). Those expressing disapproval of the media, from either the left or the right, should keep in mind that it is the media who are primarily responsible for maintaining our rights and freedoms and is expressly protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution – to gather, publish, and distribute information and ideas without government restriction; a basic right encompassing freedom from prior restraints on publication and freedom from censorship. Not everything a journalist says or writes might be to our liking but it is their responsibility to question and challenge those in power; they are human with their own personal perspective and biases similar to the rest of us.

Almost three out of four U.S. adults (71 percent) watch local television news and 65 percent view network newscasts over the course of a month[3]. While viewership totals in 2016 were obviously skewed due to election coverage, the total average viewership over a 24-hour period for NBC Nightly News was 8.5 million viewers, ABC World News 7.5 million, CBS Evening News 6.14 million, Fox News 1.8 million, CNN 712,000, and MSNBC 579,000. This is slightly mixing dissimilar viewership figures since the major broadcast networks are only for the evening news while it is total viewership for cable networks.

It is somewhat disconcerting that many of those most critical of the media are inclined to unquestioningly accept the pronouncements of “Faux” News which consistently expresses a strong conservative bias in their news coverage as well as perpetuating more general views of a conservative partiality. While not attempting to unfairly castigate or criticize Fox, a Project on Excellence in Journalism[4] report showed that 68 percent of Fox cable stories contained personal opinions as compared to MSNBC at 27 percent and CNN at 4 percent. The content analysis portion of their report also concluded that “Fox was measurably more one-sided than the other networks and that Fox journalists were more opinionated on the air”.

This conservative bias is indicative of the 60 percent of Fox News viewers who describe themselves as conservative compared with 23 percent who say they are moderate and 10 percent who are liberal according to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center. By contrast, the ideological makeup of CNN viewers (32 percent conservative, 30 percent moderate, 30 percent liberal) and MSNBC viewers (32 percent conservative, 23 percent moderate, 36 percent liberal) are far more mixed.

Republicans express a more positive view of churches and religious institutions (73 percent of Republicans vs. 50 percent of Democrats). Liberals believe that the Bill of Rights implies a complete separation of church and state and that religious expression has no place in government. Many also believe that religious expression and all references to God in public and government spaces should be removed (e.g., the Ten Commandments should not be displayed in Federal buildings).

Conservatives believe the phrase “separation of church and state” is not expressly stated in the Constitution. That the First Amendment to the Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” While this prevents the government from establishing a national church/denomination, it does not prohibit God from being acknowledged in schools and government buildings. Symbols of Christian heritage therefore should not be removed from public and government spaces (e.g., the Ten Commandments should continue to be displayed in Federal buildings) and that the government should not interfere with religion and religious freedom. Interestingly, many conservatives fail to extend this freedom to beliefs in non-Christian expressions of faith such as Islam.

The majority of adults who do not have a college degree (72 percent of the public in 2015) are more likely to express conservative opinions[5]. Highly educated adults, particularly those who have attended graduate school, are far more likely than those with less education to take predominantly liberal positions across a range of political issues. Indicating their anti-intellectual bias, republicans disapprove of higher education by 58 percent to 36 percent. Democrats more realistically widely approve of colleges and universities 72 percent to 19 percent. It is the college graduate who as technological abilities become increasingly important will prosper in the future; those without a degree are more likely to experience difficulty.

Liberals and conservatives likewise tend to differ on K-12 education. Liberals believe public schools are the best way to educate students, that vouchers take money away from public schools, and that the government should focus additional funds on existing public schools, raising teacher salaries, and reducing class sizes. Conservatives support school vouchers believing they create competition and therefore encourage schools to improve performance as vouchers provide parents the right to choose good schools for their children, not just those who can afford private schools. Unfortunately, results of current voucher programs have been decidedly mixed without any clear indication they have expanded choices for parents, significantly improved student achievement, or reduced taxpayer costs.

Republicans and Democrats remain far apart in their assessments of other institutions on the nation. Democrats continue to be more likely than Republicans to view labor unions positively (59 percent vs. 33 percent) while larger shares of Republicans have positive views of banks and financial institutions (46 percent vs. 33 percent).

The fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives is in how much of the past/present should be preserved for the future. Liberals are permissive and believe in the winds of change; conservatives want to preserve existing structures. In reality, both are needed but both also need to be realistic accepting that the world is rapidly changing and that the pace of that change will only accelerate in the future. The new must be embraced if we as a nation are not to be left behind.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, GCMG, CH, KBE, PC, known as Paddy Ashdown, is a British politician and former diplomat who served as Leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 until August 1999.

[2] Sharp Partisan Divisions in Views of National Institutions, Pew Research Center, http://www.people-press.org/2017/07/10/sharp-partisan-divisions-in-views-of-national-institutions/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=53393d5d1c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_06&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-53393d5d1c-400092341, 10 July 2017.

[3] State of the News Media 2016, Pew Research Center, http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2016/06/30143308/state-of-the-news-media-report-2016-final.pdf, June 2016.

[4] The Project for Excellence in Journalism has since been renamed the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.

[5] A Wider Ideological Gap Between More and Less Educated Adults, Pew Research Center, http://www.people-press.org/2016/04/26/a-wider-ideological-gap-between-more-and-less-educated-adults/, 26 April 2017.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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