The other day NPR did some solid man-on-the-street reporting, and found—as we have found in our ongoing Town Hall series—the public is disconnected from Washington politics. Reporter Andrea Seabrook visited Cincinnati and asked those whom she met about their opinion of Congress. It was hardly shocking to learn it was not very high.
Danny Korman, a small businessman who runs a general store, seemed to defy the conventional wisdom about how all small business owners want tax relief. Said Korman: “What we really need to be doing is increasing revenue so that we’re generating more economic activity.” Why, that’s what Paul Krugman has been arguing.
Korman pushed back when Seabrook asked whether a tax hike would affect him. “It would affect me,” he said. “I’m just not convinced that that’s the real argument. As a retail store, we’re very dependent on people walking into our store and purchasing goods.” It was more important that people have money to spend than getting a tax break. In other words, Korman said he needs customers more than he needs tax relief. “There’s a major disconnect of what the public wants, and what the lawmakers are actually passing laws for,” he told Seabrook. “They’re not listening to the public. That’s the problem.”
When asked about Congress, a man named Bill Bellman told Seabrook: “There’s nothing good to say. The current Congress, I think, has just decided they’re not going to do anything, and hope that a Republican wins the next election and they can do what they want.” Bellman said he wanted a leader in government—a non-partisan person who will do the right things. He mentioned cleaning up the economy, but NPR didn’t tell listeners what he meant by that. That might have been a nice addition to the story.
Scott Yeagle amplified the point saying that neither party wants the other to succeed. And Tim Jones told NPR that “we’re paying them a lot of money, but they’re not doing their job.”
The NPR piece reminded me of the book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, a staple from political science literature, which describes the processes buyers—or voters, for that matter—go through when they become dissatisfied with a product or a service, including that provided by the government. The NPR segment and our Town Halls show voters are unhappy. The scientific polls show that, too.
The next man-on-the-street interviews should give us a glimpse of whether these disconnected voters are remaining loyal, whether they’re voicing discontent to make enough politicians listen, or whether they’ve had enough and plan to exit from the political process in November. Those are the next questions to ask on the street.Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman. Tags: Campaign 2012, Congress, man on the street, Morning Edition, NPR, tax relief