Survey Exposes Barriers Hindering Americans From Reaching Their Full Potential in Life

A new survey conducted by In Pursuit Of, a marketing wing of the Koch-supported Seminar Network, aimed to shed light on Americans’ sentiments about a perennially hot topic in US politics: what barriers are hindering Americans from reaching their full potential in life?

Significantly, none of the questions on the survey were inherently political, and they did not reference individual politicians or political parties. Instead, they were nuanced, prefacing questions with phrases like “even if not exactly right,” and “how much do you agree.”
The survey can be summed up by three broad sections: statements about what makes for a good society and good government, barriers to realizing one’s potential, and solutions to breaking those barriers.


The responses are telling. Eighty-six percent of respondents affirmed that the “right to personal property and the fruits of our labor is the keystone to a free and just society.” This perhaps highlights a feeling that individual rights like property rights and free speech are being eroded, as 56 percent said that today there are more barriers in place preventing people from realizing their full-potential and improving their lives than there have been in past generations.

What is to be done about this? Here Americans appear almost equally divided. A slim majority of 51 percent said that government, despite its imperfections, was best suited to address major issues in society because it touches everyone, while 49 percent said that government sometimes does more harm than good, and even though it has an important role, it is not always the best solution for society’s problems.

In an increasingly polarized age, the most important thing about the poll may be the insight it offers into what kind of language and terminology best resonate with American voters. For starters, respondents were in broad agreement (69 percent) that there are indeed “serious barriers in government, business, communities, and education that prevent people from living their ideal life.” A similar proportion agreed that the government’s job is to create opportunities for upward mobility, but how much we achieve in life is up to us.
In terms of specific policies and issues, the survey highlighted four barriers of greatest concern: the rising costs of healthcare, our $21 trillion national debt, the growing cost of higher education, and a growing opioid and addiction crisis. For effective solutions to breaking these barriers, respondents pointed to lowering taxes and getting government spending under control, enforcing equal rights for all, reforming health care to put doctors and patients in charge, and encouraging scientific and technological innovation.


Given the partisan-neutral language of the survey, there’s room to spin its findings multiple ways. Writing for The Intercept, Nick Surgey and Zaid Jilani note that almost two-thirds of Americans believe government-paid college tuition would be a “very” or “somewhat” effective solution to social barriers. A $15 minimum wage also found support in the poll, with 35 percent saying it would be “very effective” and 30 percent saying it would be “somewhat effective” in removing barriers.

Surgey and Jilani also highlight the fact that a combined 55 percent supported a policy response of government-run health care as a very or somewhat effective option. However they neglected to juxtapose this with a different question from the survey that found 83 percent supported “health care reform that puts doctors and patients in charge,” which would seem to be in tension with the prior response.

These seemingly contradictory findings reflect the fact that much of the poll’s language (such as “enforcing equal rights for all,” which 84 percent of respondents affirmed as an effective way to help Americans realize their potential) is likely to be interpreted differently and evoke different laws and policies depending on one’s political leanings. As such, it must be interpreted in context, with the widely varying perspectives and experiences of the electorate in mind.


A spokesman for the Seminar Network said the survey confirmed that their group has the right priorities, RealClearPolitics reported.

“Our Network is focused on removing the barriers that stand in the way of people helping themselves and helping each other,” said James Davis in a statement released with the survey results. “We’ve seen significant progress, but work remains if we are going to truly turn around the trajectory of this country toward one where people are able to improve their own lives and realize their full potential.”

The politically nonspecific language also signals a greater willingness from the Koch network to support lawmakers who favor their policies regardless of party.

“If you are a Democrat and stand up to [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren to corral enough votes for financial reform that breaks barriers for community banks and families, you’re darn right we will work with you,” said Emily Seidel, CEO of Americans for Prosperity, at the Koch network’s summit in Colorado Springs in July.

Charles Koch echoed this sentiment during a roundtable interview with reporters at the event.
“We’re going to be more strict on holding someone accountable if they say they’re going to be for the principles that we espouse, and then they aren’t. We’re going to more directly deal with that and hold people responsible for their commitments,” Koch said. “Our organization is happy to support anybody. We’d love for there to be more Democrats to support these ideas and these issues.”

If the survey is indicative of anything, Koch just might find such principled support from both sides of the aisle.

The online survey polled 1,000 adults from July 16-18. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Image Credit: “USA Industry,” by AK Rockefeller is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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