The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
  • Archive
  • Polls Section

    What America Thinks
    Wanted: Some Time
    For Their Families

    By Richard Morin
    Washington Post Polling Director
    Monday, March 2, 1998

    It's tough being a working man or woman, and that's why a majority of Americans say they want the federal government and employers to help working families ease their burden, according to a new survey conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

    Here's what men and women said they wanted most: time off from work to care for a parent, child or spouse who is ill; time off to handle routine doctors' appointments; flexible leave time to deal with the demands of a family, as well as help in finding high quality and affordable child care.

    "Americans want more responsive employers and lawmakers," said National Partnership President Judith Lichtman in a statement that accompanied the release of the survey results. "They want change. They expect change. And they're willing to pay for it and vote for it." Lichtman advocates expanding the four-year-old Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to meet the public's demands. Surveys consistently show that FMLA remains one of the most popular and widely known legislative accomplishments of the Clinton administration.

    The problem, according to Lichtman, is that FMLA doesn't cover 41 million Americans – nearly half of the private work force. People who work for businesses with fewer than 50 employes are not covered by FMLA; neither are part-time workers. "And the FMLA does not cover many critical family responsibilities that require time away from work, such as taking a child for immunizations or coping with domestic violence," according to National Partnership analysts.

    When tested in the survey, most Americans endorsed expanding FMLA. Their survey found that more than three in four men and women supported an expansion of the FMLA to cover mid-sized companies (79 percent) and providing an additional 24 hours of leave for school visits and routine medical needs,

    Those policies are winners with voters: More than half – 58 percent – said they would be more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported these expansions of FMLA. Americans, however, were somewhat less likely to say they'd punish a legislator who voted against expanding the act: 44 percent said they would be at least somewhat less likely to vote for a member of Congress who opposed changes to FMLA.

    Big majorities did say they wanted the government (72 percent) and businesses (90 percent) to "do more" to help working families. Left untested, however, was whether public support for FMLA could withstand the arguments of business interests, who say that expanding the act would drive up costs and potentially result in layoffs at some small businesses or even force some to close.

    The national survey of 1,115 randomly selected women and men included an oversample of black women and Latinas. The poll was conducted in January by Lake Sosin Snell Perry & Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm.

    Happy Daze

    The evidence continues to mount that we're living in the best of times: Americans are more confident in the leaders of America's major institutions than they have been in more than two decades, according to a new survey by Louis Harris and Associates. The national poll found that a growing number of Americans say they have "a great deal of confidence" in the leaders of religion, medicine and the military.

    Americans even express slightly more confidence in lawyers and organized labor (This bit of good news is relative. Even with the bump up, fewer than one in seven Americans expressed great confidence in the leaders of either of these groups.)

    In fact, the Harris survey found confidence increased in the past year in each of 14 institutions, though some of the increases were within the survey's margin of sampling error and thus are not statistically significant.

    The military continues to top the list. In the latest survey, 44 percent said they had a "great deal" of confidence in military leaders, up from 37 percent a year ago but still significantly below the 57 percent who expressed similarly high confidence in military leaders in 1993. Medical leaders came in second, with 38 percent of those interviewed expressing great confidence in them, up from 29 percent in 1997. The proportion expressing great confidence in college and university leaders increased from 27 percent to 37 percent in just a year, the single biggest increase.

    Harris officials say the survey is an accurate gauge of public confidence in the leaders of the country's major institutions. "However, it does not explain changes in the trend – and therefore does not explain why the level of confidence improved so sharply over the twelve months of 1997. A reasonable explanation is that it reflects a general improvement in how many people feel about the country – a feel-good factor, good economic times and lower crime rates. But this cannot be proved," says Humphrey Taylor, chairman of Louis Harris and Associates. A total of 1,000 randomly selected adults nationally were interviewed in January for this survey.

    So What Else is New?

    Politicians were rated as the least honest of 20 professions included in a new national survey conducted by Aragon Consulting of St. Louis. About one in four persons surveyed said politicians were "not at all honest," while just 1 percent rated them as "completely honest." Politicos beat out used car dealers for the bottom spot: one in six said used car dealers were dishonest.

    Members of the clergy topped the list; only about 3 percent of those interviewed said "ministers, rabbis, etc." were "not at all honest" while 37 percent rated them as "completely honest." A total of 400 randomly selected respondents were interviewed for the poll.

    Richard Morin is director of polling for The Washington Post. "What Americans Think" appears Mondays in The Washington Post National Weekly Edition. Morin can be reached at

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar