Wednesday, March 21

Voting: Personal Business Becomes Public Policy

According to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll released today, most Americans are ambivalent about new regulations aimed at governing lifestyle choices. In most cases, the public is happy to support regulations that they perceive have little impact on themselves, personally.

While 61 percent worried that legislation aimed at lifestyle choices might be too coercive, impeding individual freedoms, 81 percent agreed (33 percent strongly agreed) that these same laws are important to protecting safety. This creates a paradox in that Americans vote their immediate moral conscience without considering consequences.

"The public is somewhat schizophrenic about laws and policies that are intended to improve health and safety and reduce injuries and accidents," said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of The Harris Poll. "Most people favor many regulations that protect them but they worry about our becoming a 'nanny state.'"

Issues that respondents supported or strongly supported.

• 91 percent supported the ban on texting and driving.
• 86 percent supported child vaccinations.
• 86 percent supported safety belt laws.
• 82 percent supported motorcycle helmet laws.
• 80 percent supported smoking bans in enclosed public places.
• 78 percent supported requiring nutritional information on menus.
• 70 percent supported cell phone use while driving.
• 68 percent supported reducing salt in packaged goods.
• 61 percent supported mandatory HPV vaccinations for girls, ages 11-12.
• 38 percent supported a tax on high sugar soft drinks.
• 35 percent supported employers not hiring people who smoke.
• 24 percent supported employers not hiring people because of weight.

The same respondents said that people should be free to make their own decisions (81 percent) unless those laws reduce accidents, improve health, save lives, and reduce health care costs (78 percent). And it is in this paradox that the survey doesn't go far enough, one that is prime for psychologists.

Packaging and propaganda are driving Americans to make decisions for others.

When you look at many of the controversial issues today, many are packaged with an intent to reduce accidents, improve health, save lives, and reduce health care costs (on both sides of the argument). The only difference between one argument and the other is how it is framed and how directly it impacts the individuals making the decision.

This is a compelling study in that it pinpoints a growing ease for people to vote for what used to be considered lifestyle and personal choice. However, with the adoption of a national health care program, people are increasingly willing to make personal, medical, health, and lifestyle choices for other people.

The extremes tell the story. Most people support the texting and driving ban because it represents an activity considered by most to be the highest form of distracted driving, and a significantly increased risk. But the bottom of the scale tells another story. How much you weigh may become a public issue.
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