Study reveals `leadership gap' in U.S.

Many Americans unhappy with politicians' failure to keep vows, effect change

October 17, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - More than half of Americans think the United States either is going in the wrong direction or has no direction at all, according to a survey released yesterday.

A majority of Americans also think current U.S. political leaders are "very" or "somewhat" weak at solving practical problems such as providing access to affordable health care, improving the quality of education and balancing the need for clean air and water with the need for safe, clean energy.

The survey results exposed a "leadership gap" between the charismatic images of modern politicians and their failure to deliver on their promises or enact real change, according to the sponsors of the poll. It was conducted by Opinion Research Corp. International for the Civil Society Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Newton, Mass., that is devoted to provoking discussion of issues.

"It's like they're all in a car with the keys in the ignition," said former Democratic Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, the chairwoman of the Civil Society Institute. "They want to go somewhere, but no one's provided a road map."

More than 90 percent of American adults think presidential candidates should be "honest, straightforward and willing to take responsibility" and have the "ability to find practical solutions to major problems." Four out of five say they are looking for leaders willing "to do whatever it takes" to solve problems, regardless of partisan connections.

According to the survey, they are not getting what they want.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans - Republicans, Democrats and independents alike - think current political leaders are weak when it comes to providing access to affordable health care. And 59 percent characterize current leaders as weak on improving the quality of education, while 57 percent see weakness on environmental issues, such as achieving clean air and water.

The one area in which a majority felt that today's leaders did well was national security; 59 percent said practical leadership was strong in countering threats to U.S. security.

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