Forget about the economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and saving Social Security: An online opinion survey released by the White House this week ranks legalizing pot, playing online poker and cracking down on Scientologists as far more important issues.
The results are part of a "Citizen's Briefing Book," which compiles the results of an online project launched by President Obama's transition office to solicit policy ideas from the citizenry. More than 125,000 users submitted 1.4 million votes during the wide-open process, leading to results that clearly do not align with recent scientific polling.
Legalizing marijuana, for example, ranked as the most popular issue. Ending federal prosecutions for medicinal marijuana also ranked high, as did ending the war on drugs. "We must stop imprisoning responsible adult citizens choosing to use a drug that has been mislabeled for over 70 years," said one respondent named "Matt."
This is not the first time that Obama has been hounded by Web-proficient marijuana supporters. One of the most popular questions submitted to an "online town hall" hosted by Obama in March was whether legalizing marijuana would help grow the economy; the president said he didn't think it was a good strategy.
As might be obvious from the results, this was not a scientific survey. Online, opt-in surveys such as this one are not generated using a random sample of Americans, which is necessary to take a representative measure of public sentiment. In the most recent Gallup polling on the most important problem facing the nation, the economy continued to hold the top spot, with 76 percent citing it as their top priority. No other issue was mentioned by more than seven percent of adults nationwide.
In contrast, a large number of participants in the "citizen's briefing" survey called for an end to the tax-exempt status for the Church of Scientology, perhaps best known as the unconventional religion of choice for Tom Cruise, John Travolta and other Hollywood actors. "It is my belief, and the belief of thousands of other Americans, that the Church of Scientology is a dangerous, for-profit organization," wrote someone dubbed "azure."
And the number one technology issue facing America? The need to legalize online poker gambling, of course.
"Poker players around the country are speaking with one voice to protect the game they love, and the White House is hearing that message," John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, said in a news release boasting about the results. He added that the result "proves that this is not a niche issue, but a national public policy that this Congress and this president should advance this year."
The new White House briefing book does include many traditional political issues, including calls to pull troops out of Iraq, close down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and investigate "potential war crimes" by the Bush administration, as someone named "Fish" wrote in one entry. Vague calls to increase "openness and transparency" and "bring back the Constitution" were also popular.
The White House, of course, focused on suggestions that dovetail with their own priorities. In a video accompanying the release of the briefing book on Monday, Obama said: "Many of the ideas you offer, from improving light rail transit to modernizing our energy grid to creating a new service corps, have been embraced by my administration."
The most popular sentiment in the "homeland security" category was the demand: "No More Wars on Abstract Concepts." As it happens, Obama and his aides have largely stopped using the "war on terrorism" phrase so prevalent under George W. Bush.
By Dan Eggen
May 13, 2009