US political experts, public: America's best yet to come
American political scholars share the general public's basic confidence in the nation's political system and an optimism that America's best times still lie ahead.Skip to next paragraph
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These are among conclusions of a Monitor survey of 526 political scholars at the American Political Science Association (APSA) convention in New York City Sept. 3 to 6.
Although the scholars often disagree as a group with the current administration's policies, or think results will be hard to achieve, they give President Reaganhigh grades for his early command of the Washington scene.
However, the Monitor survey shows the political scientists largely stable in their liberal Deocratic outlook. Full professors and graduate students hold similar political philosophies, which are also reflected by the social science profession as a whole, as show by studies over the past decade.
If anything, the young and women, the expanding or newer groups in the profession, are more critical of the administration.
Hence a "Reagan revolution" will likely have to win its own support -- by its achievements -- on the nation's campuses, where 2 million youths are expected to study political issues this fall.
Half of the questions on the Monitor's 50-question survey had earlier been asked of the general public. The experts' and the public's views, predictably, often differed.
But the scholars and the public agreed almost to the percentage point on the question "How sound is the American political system?" both groups calling it sound, by a 2-to-1 margin. Thirteen percent of the scholars said it was "basically sound and essentially good," and 55 percent "basically sound but needs some improvements." Again, an identical majority of scholarsand the general public (56 percent for both) think Americans have not seen the best of times.
Opinion experts caution that elites like political scholars may view questions in different terms from the public. Often elites respond by class or income, or with a different specific sense of what the question asks.
Still, it is interesting to note how the experts and the public converge and disagree on a number of reforms, issues, and trends.
The political scientists and the public are at opposite ends of the scale on a constitutional amendment to permit prayers in school: The experts are 9 to 1 against it, the public 5 to 1 in favor.
The political scientists (51 percent) are a little more likely than the public (44 percent) to think the quality of life of blacks in the US has gotten better over the past 10 years.
On the equal rights amendment, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, the scholars (83 percent) favor the constitutional change more emphatically than the public (63 percent).
On abortion, now both a constitutional and congressional issue, the scholars and public both favor legal abortion by at least 9 to 1 when the woman's health is endangered. But the public splits evenly on abortion if the woman is married and wants no more children, or if she is not married and does not want to marry the man. The political scientists by more than 4-to-1 majorities, like similarly educated Americans generally, would still favor the woman's ability to get a legal abortion under those conditions.
On institutional reforms, both the public and scholars reject a single, six-year term for president -- the scholars by 3 to 1, the public by 2 to 1.