Count this as more evidence that ordinary Americans are far more perceptive about politics than they are given credit for: Respondents in a recent survey report being more confused than ever about the political issues facing our country. A new Associated Press-GfK poll surveyed Americans who vote regularly or are informed about politics, and here’s what it found, according to the AP:
Among Americans strongly interested in political news, nearly 6 in 10 say political issues facing the United States are “much more complicated” than a decade ago.Of course, creating Medicare and fighting the Cold War weren’t easy.Perhaps nostalgia blurs people’s judgment of current troubles?Sheila Suess Kennedy, director of the Indiana University Center for Civic Literacy, thinks there’s more to it.“Not only are we dealing with a more complex environment, we are dealing with a more ambiguous environment,” Kennedy said. “People want ‘this is good and this is bad.’ Increasingly we live with ‘there’s black and there’s white and there’s a whole lot of gray.'”
This is a healthy perception for the simple reason that it is true. Many gentry liberals think that the issues, both global and domestic, are as simple as ever. The “poor peasants,” they believe, are just confused and distracted by all the horrible corporate shills at Fox, not to mention those unspeakable Kochs. They are wrong. Polls like this point to one of the core convictions that shapes this site’s coverage. The old, 20th century industrial age form of social organization in the United States is breaking up, and we haven’t yet figured out how to make the information age society that will replace it work. We live in an age of uncertainty, anxiety, and change, with many competing ideas about how to reform our institutions to fit new realities.
A society that understands this truth is in much better shape than one that insists that things are really very simple. An obstinate belief in that kind of simplicity makes truly dangerous polarization, conspiracy theories, and ugly ideologies spring up like weeds. Americans are frustrated, and sometimes angry, about the difficulties in our path, and the failure of our leaders to meaningfully grapple with those difficulties. But, so far at least, most of us seem to understand that we are confused because the world is complex, and that is a far better place to start from than a blindness to the seismic, perplexing shifts around us.