Polls reveal that the country is united in thinking that old laws clog the system and need to be periodically reviewed.
The people are ahead of the politicians. They fervently believe government is broken and they want it fixed. Inexplicably, few candidates for the White House or Congress this year are offering the bold reforms voters want.
A recent nationwide poll* my firm conducted for Common Good, the nonpartisan reform coalition, found that strong majorities of voters see obsolete law--and the useless programs and regulations it spawns--as a problem in search of a solution:
- More than four out of every five voters, 81 percent, believe "there are too many laws, rules and regulations in America today that no longer work the way they were originally intended." This majority cuts across partisan lines: 77 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of independents are in agreement.
- Most voters understand the fiscal implication of the issue: 74 percent think the existence of "too many obsolete and outdated laws" is a cause of wasteful government spending -- no small matter at a time of mounting deficits and looming budget cutbacks. Seventy-four percent percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents share this viewpoint.
Not only do voters perceive the problem, they also want something done about it:
- An overwhelming 91 percent think that every law Congress passes should be "periodically reviewed" to make sure it works as it was originally intended. Voter sentiment on this question runs deep across the population spectrum: It includes 92 percent of men, 91 percent of women, 91 percent of whites, 92 percent of minorities, 94 percent of voters under 45, 91 percent of voters 45 and older, 95 percent of Tea Party supporters and 89 percent of Occupy Wall Street supporters.
- A clear majority of all voters surveyed -- 67 percent -- want Congress to create an "independent commission made up of experienced managers from outside government" that would clean out outdated laws and regulations. Over 60 percent of every demographic group measured -- by gender, age, party, race and region -- support this proposal.
This year's candidates are spending so much time assaulting one another that they're overlooking something that could really help the country, and that's a serious debate on how to fix broken government. The role of obsolete law, and how it bloats the budget and diminishes governmental performance, is central to that debate.
The playbook of conventional politics tells us that focusing on policy substance in the heat of a campaign is too risky. But this year, the playbook is wrong. Voters want more than the usual babble. Offering fresh solutions to systemic problems may well be the best way for today's candidates to earn credibility and trust -- two things they sorely need.
Focusing on overhauling government and rooting out obsolete laws, regulations and programs is an opportunity to transcend contentious partisanship. As candidates look for voter concerns to tap, tackling this fundamental reform issue is good politics. It's a wonder that more of them don't realize it.