- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Americans may love flag and country with renewed passion after the terrorist attacks, but such feelings have not improved their impression of politicians, journalists or the electoral process in general, a new poll has found.
"Despite an outpouring of patriotic fervor, America has not been transformed," states a survey from the Harwood Institute and the Gallup Organization released yesterday. "We are not a nation fundamentally changed by September 11, at least not in terms of our commitment to improving politics and civic life in our communities, or in our expectations for future political conduct."
Most Americans expect negativity, name-calling and a preoccupation with irrelevant issues to continue along the midterm 2002 campaign trail.
Almost two-thirds of those polled said that the number of candidates who bothered to provide important information about their campaigns to voters was "about the same or worse."
Another 64 percent said that candidates who could show they actually understood the communities they represented had not increased.
Have politicians cleaned up their act since those bipartisan days when they sang "God Bless America" on the Capitol steps? Not in the public's eye. Some 65 percent of those surveyed said the number of candidates who resorted to negative campaigns or name-calling were the same or would worsen.
The press fared no better, with 63 percent saying the news media's obligations to hold candidates accountable for campaign promises had not improved, or had worsened. Another 80 percent said the media could not give up sensationalism and hype: The amount of such fare was either the same or worse since September 11.
Two-thirds of those polled said the media had not improved campaign coverage by providing substantial information about issues or candidates' track records.
"This survey shows us that Americans have not been fooled into thinking that patriotic feelings are a replacement for substance in politics and action in public life," said Richard Harwood, who founded the nonpartisan, public research group which conducted the survey.
"In fact, much of what we saw in this poll tells us that citizens think civic responsibility and political conduct are more than just waving the flag, singing patriotic songs and giving blood or donations."
The poll also asked, "Do you think that to be truly patriotic, one has to be involved in the political and civic life of the community?" Only 40 percent agreed that such involvement must be part of patriotism.
But hope springs eternal, the poll found.
While pessimistic about the 2002 elections, more than 63 percent said they found "small steps of improvement" in American politics, and only 21 percent said "nothing new" could improve politics.
Still, most people feel the tug of civic obligations.
The survey found that 88 percent agreed that "for politics to improve, people like me need to get involved," and 80 percent said that even with major differences of opinion, our nation is able to engage in meaningful debate. But only 48 percent said that Americans are "willing to put themselves on the line" to improve politics.
Meanwhile, they fear for their children's patriotism, with 67 percent saying today's children do not have a sufficient understanding of what the U.S. flag represents. Another 76 percent said that civics education does not get the attention it deserves.
"Patriotism is not passive," Mr. Harwood said. "It's time to give Americans a way to convert their expressions of hope and love of country into a true commitment to political change."
He also plans "The New Patriotism Project," a seven-city initiative meant to reintroduce American communities to the nuts and bolts of the political process.


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