100 Percent of the Future

Candidates should have to explain how they’ll ensure life is better for the next generation.

Kindergarten children eating lunch smiling at camera

Think of them first.

By July 30, 2015 | 11:00 a.m. EDT+ More

Good grief, Charlie Brown! We Americans are inundated with polls – state polls, national polls, online polls, polls testing the who’s up and who’s down of the 20-plus candidates, even the quickie polls after a speech or event. And sometimes polls actually do a decent job of testing the critical issues before the country.

I just came across one such poll, taken in the key state of Iowa, that focused on our children’s future – imagine, looking seriously at our kids, our political system, the economics of what lies ahead. What a novel idea! Having just read noted author Robert Putnam’s latest book “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis,” I was very interested in the Iowa survey. It tracks very closely with Putnam’s analysis and conclusions: 65 percent express skepticism that “the life for the next generation will be better than for us.” In fact, only 7 percent are “very confident” that our kids’ lives will be better.

What is happening to the notion of upward mobility and the American Dream? And why are we not focusing more on our children? This survey was commissioned to explore those issues by the Child and Family Policy Center and Every Child Matters Education Fund and done by Seltzer & Company, the firm that does the highly respected Des Moines Register poll.

[READ: It’s Just an Illusion]

I am usually skeptical about polls that ask “mom and apple pie” questions such as do you support our kids, are you in favor of a strong national defense, do you care about the elderly? But this poll does not do that.

It shows that voters have a nuanced view of the issues, party affiliation does matter and, most important, the candidates for president in 2016 need to be confronted with what they are going to do to bring back a strong middle class and restore the American Dream for the younger generation.

As the Its About Our Kids website puts it: “Children are 24 percent of the population and 100 percent of the future.”

Here are some surprises from the poll: “Improving the health, education, and wellbeing of children” ranks as the most important issue with 29 percent, followed by “creating jobs and improving the economy” at 23 percent, “pursuing terrorists in the U.S. and abroad” at 20 percent and “balancing the federal budget and reducing the deficit,” also at 20 percent.

[READ: Call the COPS]

There are big differences between Democrats, Republicans and independents, however. Democrats rank kids’ issues as number one with 35 percent, and independents put them at 33 percent. Republicans rank kids much lower at 16 percent and put pursuing terrorists at 36 percent and reducing the deficit at 30 percent, much higher.

We see similar results in differences with the question of investing more in kids, investing less or keeping it the same. The overall numbers are 52 percent more, 32 percent the same and 11 percent less. But Democrats support investing more by 69 percent and only 1 percent say less with 27 percent saying the same. For Republicans, only 34 percent want to invest more, 38 percent say the same and 21 percent want to invest less.

The biggest division between the two parties is on the question of choosing whether you believe “Government efforts to make health care, education, and child care more affordable are integral in helping parents raise their children responsibly” or you believe “A responsible parent should not look to government for any help in raising their children.”

[SEE: Political Cartoons on the Economy]

Overall, 42 percent favor government efforts and 40 percent not looking to government. While Democrats support the first statement by 70 percent to 17 percent, the Republicans favor the second by 66 percent to 12 percent. Pretty close to polar opposites.

The candidates should take these results to heart and truly engage in a debate about how best to restore the American Dream and increase upward mobility for our children. Democrats appear to favor action and a strong role for government and communities; Republicans seem to embrace more trickle down and leave it to the families.

With more and more Americans seeing their incomes stagnate, with a lack of education and support for those on the lower rungs of the income ladder and with more and more people locked into dead end jobs, all of which effects our children, it is time for candidates to answer the simple question: What are you going to do about it?

I hope they will start in Iowa.