"Keep the younger generation in the state, provide jobs for the population, send the illegal immigrants back to their countries. We need jobs to provide services to our citizens. With jobs, we can also sustain our present level of living, keep our roads in good repair. Stop the politics. Most of these people we elect to the state legislature are idiots and are only there because they want to either profit for themselves (personal gain) or want to pad their résumés. Shame on us voters. We fall for the charm of these candidates."
That's a direct quote from a citizen of Connecticut.
Those sentiments are hardly unique, and they concern me for several reasons. Not the least is that I live in Connecticut. But I also believe the state is an important bellwether for the nation.
For starters, it's close, both geographically and psychologically, to Massachusetts, where Scott Brown drove his pickup truck to Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat, nearly derailed health-care reform and probably permanently upended conventional wisdom about "blue" and "red" states. Plus, Connecticut is a political hotbed itself, with virtually every major office up for grabs: By 2012, we'll elect a new governor, state attorney general and two U.S. senators. All the races are messy (is there any other kind today?), and all are seen as referendums on Obama.
Connecticut has been called the insurance capital of the world and is home to many multinational corporations and financial services companies. Its diverse economic demographics make it a microcosm of America; "Connecticut" can mean hedge-funders in Greenwich or the homeless in Hartford. The Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Stamford Advocate that he came to the state--a visit during which he stumped for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy--because it "has great wealth and great poverty. Places such as Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport are 'doughnut holes' in a state that is otherwise one of the richest in the nation."
That's why my company, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, along with our health-focused sister agency, Euro RSCG Life, zeroed in on Connecticut when we commissioned two surveys in February to understand the mood of Americans about issues such as politics, the economy, health care and media. Our research partners, MicroDialogue, conducted the surveys, one nationwide and one in Connecticut, each questioning 386 people.
The news from Connecticut isn't good. Citizens are unhappy. Pessimistic. Disgruntled. Angry. They believe politicians are incompetent, self-interested, corrupt and too partisan--not surprising from a population that identifies more with "Independent" than "Democrat" or "Republican" (36.9, 29.7 and 22.7 percent, respectively). They fear that the state's heavy taxes and regulation are killing jobs.
With a 23-month recession and no end in sight, Connecticuters are working harder than ever just to pay their bills. The cost of living continues to rise. The stress of watching local businesses close, friends and colleagues lose jobs, and politicians just argue is angering them, and that's reflected in our survey.
The survey also found that Connecticut residents are paying more attention to their local politics, especially men, people over 40 and Republicans. That increased civic engagement is the good news. The bad news is that far more people have become more disapproving about those politics, particularly women and people ages 18 to 39. The same trends hold true for local politics outside their area and for state politics. Is it because now that they're more aware, they have more cause for dismay? Or has what's been going on gotten even worse?
Connecticut residents are likewise more interested in other states' politics and in domestic politics--and are more disapproving about what they're learning. Men, over-40s and Republicans are particularly attentive, while women are especially dismayed.
In general, Connecticuters are ticked off and want substantive change. Large majorities (69.8 percent net agreement overall; 80.7 percent of Republicans) agree with the statement that Americans are angry with the political establishment. Significant minorities (27.4 percent net agreement overall; 47.8 percent of Democrats) believe Sen. Joe Lieberman no longer represents people of any party. But they don't want Sarah Palin, either: There's great disagreement (42.0 percent net overall) with the statement "Only seat-of-the-pants politicians such as Sarah Palin really understand the American people."
"People have reined in household spending to stay within a budget. They want their government to do the same," says my friend, political and policy consultant Jennifer Ryan Safsel. "The dilemma is that real change takes time and courage. It takes time to create, debate and pass legislation to solve public problems, time to implement the legislation, then time for the public to use the new programs. In this age of tweeting and 24-hour media, people are less willing to wait and see. They want help now."
When Connecticut residents were asked about their quality of life, natural environment, business environment, community life, employment, taxation and cost of living, it became clear just how pessimistic the state has become. Community life and natural environment barely netted out optimistic, and the other indicators all netted out pessimistic. Financial matters drew the most pessimism.
Because statistics never tell the full story, the survey concluded with an open-ended request for "what you would most like to happen in your state, and why." The pollsters got an eyeful. Some unedited comments:
"Have politicians that care about the needs of the people and not just the next election. Doing nothing so you can't be associated with or 'blamed' for something in the future is not leadership and is not productive for our state or nation."
"Fire all the yuppy commie dems and get normal people in office who actually care about the communities they are representing."
"I would like to see the 2 parties disband (Republican & Democrat) and everyone should run as an Independent there would be less fighting and less partisanship, and maybe something will get done."
"What does it even MATTER? No matter WHO gets in, it's always the same useless idiots in charge, and the same nonsense. It's a waste of time to bother caring."
"Fairly tax the rich in this state, make them pay their fair share, get rid of all the loopholes only people with a large amount of disposable income can use."
"CT needs to quickly change its policies toward business and manufacturing. It is slowly leaving CT and it is not favorable for most new or moving business to come to our state. It is sad since so much of CT has been hardware, aerospace, metal working etc. Much has left or is out of business. I am an engineer by training and have watched complete industries leave or are no longer existent here."
"I would like the illegals to be held accountable for trashing our once beautiful state.. they need to pay taxes, fix up their homes, and yards, get rid of their garbage, recognize what a neighborhood is and act like a neighbor, not like they own it all, and don't have to be responsible for it. clean up danbury, literally."
Fighting words, there. Clearly, state leaders have their work cut out for them. But let's keep this in context. All the negativity in the air spells irrational exuberance that might be even more disruption just for the sake of disruption. Plus, these answers came against the backdrop of the Great Recession and real financial and political upheaval. How are people supposed to feel? If the mood of Connecticut citizens had been positive and optimistic, I might have used this post to speculate about Prozac in the water supply.