As we amble towards April 15, Americans remain worried about jobs, the economy and their well-being. The country is looking for leadership and solutions to turn things around and make life better and more predictable. Conservatives have an opportunity to reshape the conversation and in doing so, revamp a sluggish economy while addressing the real pocketbook issues hard working families are facing every day.
Unfortunately, we have allowed one message and one message alone to dominate: fiscal belt-tightening. Yes, our nation's balance sheet is in bad shape because of runaway spending. Yes, our national debt is strangling the economy. But there are other areas that need our attention as well.
A recent poll conducted by YG Network shows a clear path to expanding our message by offering solutions that move the national discussion beyond just debt and deficit reduction. Specifically, we should promote more transparency in higher education, policies to lower energy prices, immigration reforms and a pro-growth tax agenda. At the same time, we must continue to fight Obamacare and offer workable alternatives that expand access for those that need coverage while protecting the choices and wallets of those who already have it. Our poll found forty-four percent believe the law will make things worse for their family and a majority of respondents still believe Obamacare should be repealed or significantly changed.
Simply put -- Americans believe we are at a crossroads. Nine out of 10 Americans believe economic related issues will have the most impact on their future, with 38 percent citing the economy and jobs as having the greatest impact followed by debt/deficit (20 percent) and health care (16 percent). While these findings are not surprising, people remain focused on their own personal finances citing energy, specifically the price of gas, as hurting personal finances more than government debt or regulations.
A whopping 88 percent of Americans believe the price of energy is hurting their family's finances. A majority of Americans, 56 percent, believe it is hurting their family finances a lot. Can you blame them? In Phoenix, Arizona, the average price of gas was just over $1.79 four years ago. Today it has more than doubled to $3.72. In 2012, an average U.S. household spent over $900 more on gas per year than in 2009.
Beyond energy, conservatives have an opportunity to lead on higher education policy. YG Network's poll found almost 90 percent of Americans favor providing parents a full breakdown of college tuition costs and providing prospective college students with reliable information on majors, such as the employment rate for recent graduates and potential earnings. To put this in perspective, thirty years ago a 4-year degree cost approximately $14,000. Today, that 4-year degree costs about $88,000 while U.S. student loan debt averages over $27,000 for recent college graduates. That's why we agree with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who said, "Helping students realize opportunity and a career, while keeping tuition costs low, makes common sense."
Finally, immigration reform is on the verge of becoming a reality. Conservative leaders are doing a good job embracing common sense immigration reforms, including ensuring border security and addressing illegal immigrants currently residing in our country. Our poll found close to 70 percent of Americans believe the United States could be doing more when it comes to keeping illegal immigrants from crossing into the United States. At the same time, 75 percent of respondents favor a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought to the United States as children as long as they do not have a criminal record and obtain either two years of college or military service.
As conservatives, we must do more to articulate how our solutions can actually make life better. If we want our issues to resonate at the kitchen table, we have to pull up a chair and listen.
John Murray is the former Deputy Chief of Staff to Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Founder and President of the YG Network, an advocacy non-profit aimed at supporting conservative policies and those who fight for those policies.