In this episode, our hosts Bruce Lesley and Messellech “Selley” Looby chat with pollster and political strategist Celinda Lake. Lake is President and Founder of Lake Research Partners, a national public opinion and political strategy research firm.
Lake walks our hosts through public polling that shows voters strongly favor investing in children and centering them in public policy. The data contradicts lawmakers’ inclination to treat children’s issues as an afterthought. Lake outlines the unique challenges facing child advocates and ways to increase public attention to the needs of children and families.
To see the full results of the Lake Research Partners poll for First Focus on Children, go to https://firstfocus.org/blog/fact-sheet-voters-support-investments-in-kids.
As a pollster, Lake hears every variety of opinion on contentious political issues. Yet, she’s found that Americans are more united than they seem and she’s passionate about using that information to fight the rising problem of political polarization.Be sure to check out Lake Research Partners and follow on Twitter at @celindalake and @lake_research. Lake’s Recent book with Ed Goaes, A Question of Respect, can be found here.
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Selley Looby 00:03
Hey, Bruce, you know, when we’re talking about polling, the term salience tends to come up a lot. And I know for many, that’s an SAT word. For me the first time I heard the term, I had to look it up. What does that mean, as it relates to polling?
Bruce Lesley 00:16
It’s favourability. Do you really care? And are you passionate about the question? And I think it’s an important question for not only pollsters, but also for policymakers. And so they may see that people say they support it. But do they really? And I think the question then is, you know, how much do they care?
Selley Looby 00:35
Yeah, I know, for us when talking about polling, especially as it relates to children’s issues, we have seen time and time again, that there’s a deep commitment and a favor a clear favor to make investments in kids and prioritize their well being.
Bruce Lesley 00:51
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. Not only does American public favor these issues, but they actually do care. And I think that’s, that’s the thing that policymakers don’t necessarily understand. There is a perception that people may say they’re for kids issues, but they don’t really care. But I think, as our guest today will show that that’s not the case.
Selley Looby 01:11
And when you think of the term salience, does it relate to issues outside of kids? Do you think that the level of scrutiny when people talk about the term salience comes into play as much? In your experience? Do you feel like it’s a given?
Bruce Lesley 01:24
Yeah, Ithink that’s an awesome question. I think that often people do soon that, yes, people are passionate about issues like Medicare, Social Security. And they also know that senior citizens vote. So for policymakers, they really have to know that, that the voters also care about things like child care, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And if they don’t, they’re not going to prioritize it. And that’s what we see often in public policy. From First Focus on Children, this is Speaking of Kids, I’m Bruce Lesley.
Selley Looby 02:00
And I’m Messellech Looby. Speaking of Kids is a podcast that puts kids at the center of public policy.
Bruce Lesley 02:12
Some of our work on polling and focus groups with the public, there’s sometimes there’s a disconnect with the public about children’s issues. And so one time we were doing a focus group with the public and the pollster asked, you know, the people in the room, what are the major issues that you’re most concerned about? And people said all kinds of things, people talked about Social Security, Medicare, one guy even talked about trash, having his trash picked up is a huge issue to him. And of all the people in the room, there’s only one person who really mentioned a kid’s issue, and it was education. So the pollster then did ask people say you don’t care about kids. And it was at that point, people that came unglued.
Selley Looby 02:57
Wow, wow. I mean, I think that just goes to show that because they’re not always top of mind, you know, they’re there. And people know, they’re important. And their issues, especially if you’re, you know, a young parent or part of a family. But I think that just goes to show that sometimes it needs to be teased out a little bit.
Bruce Lesley 03:13
Yeah, I think people inherently get that education is a kids issue. But once you sort of then bring to them the questions of things like the child tax credit, or children’s health or child nutrition, people are very like, Oh, my God, yes. And so that was the case here. The pollster then said to people, you didn’t mention kids, you didn’t say anything about them? And people said, no, no, no, we are absolutely and some people even stood up and we’re yelling back at him. And he then ran out of the room and ran into us and said, oh, my God, you guys have a scratch and sniff issue.
Selley Looby 03:47
Immediately, the stickers come to mind where we’re, you know, could be a cute little sticker. But until you kind of really scratch it and get below the surface. It’s not so obvious. I love that term.
Bruce Lesley 03:58
No, absolutely. And it was very instructive that the public does care. They just sometimes don’t think about children is a public policy issue. And I think that’s inherent and that the media doesn’t really cover kids issues.
Selley Looby 04:10
Absolutely. I mean, over our time together at First Focus, we’ve done several polls, and I think even the notion of polling on issues related to children and families is really unconventional. It’s not typically something that’s done.
Bruce Lesley 04:25
Yeah, I think that one of the things we’ve really learned is that we can’t just ask the question of whether people favor or disfavor a policy that we’ve also got to ask question is, how much do you care about this so that the public then is, you know, asked the question, but then we can show to policymakers actually, it is salient. They actually do care and they do so passionately.
Selley Looby 04:47
You know, in our recent poll that we surveyed 1000 likely voters and it showed it was a five to one margin that voters believe you know, we are spending too little on children is the ratio where the salience comes in, when when you’re looking at polling?
Bruce Lesley 05:02
The ratio is important. It does show that the public overwhelmingly does support it. But then the next question, I think that Celinda Lake, who’s our guest today really taught us is that we also need to ask the question of how much do you favor it? Are you deeply concerned? Or are you not concerned? And it’s at that point, I think, then we can show not only to the public, overwhelmingly supporting issue, but actually overwhelmingly care.
Selley Looby 05:29
That, it’s like another layer, the scratch and sniff, it’s getting to the fact that folks do care about kids, and then it’s really drilling down to get to okay, well, at what level? Right?
Bruce Lesley 05:39
Yeah, absolutely. I think like, we asked in that poll about the Child Tax Credit, the public showed that they overwhelmingly supported by a 72 to 21% margin. But then she also asked the question of, you know, how concerning is that to you? And asked questions related to it. Like, we know that child poverty has an enormous negative impact on the cost to society, there’s an estimated more than $1 trillion cost of child poverty to society. And the public said that, by an overwhelmingly well, more than 80% of people said they found that concerning
Selley Looby 06:17
I remember that question. And what I found interesting, is that held true across party lines as well.
Bruce Lesley 06:23
Yeah, it was definitely bipartisan, Democrats, Republicans, actually tripartisan and even independents, all overwhelmingly said they were concerned about it, and they they strongly favor it.
Selley Looby 06:34
Yeah, I mean, even the question on, you know, child poverty at large. And, you know, voters concerned about child poverty, both in terms of as a comparison to an adult poverty and the cost of it. Like, we know that there is a long term cost involved with poverty. And we know that early investments in kids the return on investment on these critical programs, if funded adequately and expanded, can save money down the line.
Bruce Lesley 07:01
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that sometimes people don’t think about the Child Tax Credit being a public policy issue, per se. And when you then sort of get them focused on it, they actually overwhelmingly are concerned about it, and they get inherently that it’s good for kids. It’s good for families, but it’s also good for society, you know, for your point that the cost of child poverty really does have a negative societal effect.
Selley Looby 07:29
Bruce Lesley 07:38
Well, I know we’ve been talking about Celinda Lake, and we’re really thrilled to have her on today. And we’ve been working with her since the inception of First Focus back in 2005. In various ways, she really does understand this inherent problem we face as child advocates about getting policymakers to understand the importance of children.
Selley Looby 08:00
Yeah, I mean, the poll that she did with us it was conducted, and I believe May of 2022, right?
Bruce Lesley 08:06
Selley Looby 08:07
And when we received the results, and when we pushed out an overview we shared with the public that, you know, Celinda and her team conducted this poll on 1000 likely voters with an over sampling of parents, black and Hispanic voters. Why was that important for us to do?
Bruce Lesley 08:27
There was some polling at the time that showed that support for the Child Tax Credit wasn’t that strong. And and when we looked at the questions, the focus of those questions were about parents. And this is always our barrier. If people are saying we should do a Child Tax Credit to help parents or not help parents. That’s a different question for the public, then, should we do the Child Tax Credit to help children and so we really wanted to dive into that and say, Should we pass a Child Tax Credit that reduces child poverty, for example. And what we found was there’s a huge difference in the public of what how they perceive the issue, when it’s focused on parents versus kids.
Selley Looby 09:07
And for us, that’s important, because we’re then able to better advocate for these issues and paint a different picture, especially when we talk about the term salience and children’s issues being a scratch and sniff issue. It almost shows to me that you have to be scratching in the right spot, right? Like, even if you’re digging a little deeper, but the angles a little off, people are not going to truly understand where the benefit and the value lies, because the focus is on, in this case, the adults and the parents, whereas we really know the real benefit and the real return on investment lies with children.
Bruce Lesley 09:42
Absolutely. I mean, we’ve, we have evidence that shows that every aspect of the lives of kids is negatively affected by child poverty. And so for years and years, pollsters told us you know, we really can’t talk about poverty issues. You need to talk about low income working families, well, kids don’t work. So we really needed to get at, do people really care about the cost implications to both children and society of child poverty? And so we not only asked them, Do you support the Child Tax Credit as it affects child poverty? And we have then also asked, Do you think it matters to children themselves? And then also whether it matters to society? And the great thing about Celinda’s work is it really showed that the public deeply cares and is concerned about those issues, and others as well.
Selley Looby 10:34
Right. I mean, we even asked about children’s health.
Bruce Lesley 10:37
Exactly. In the polling, we know, the American people really love Medicare, and Social Security. So we wanted to dive into what about the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is that for kids, and what we found is that, overwhelmingly, the public also cares about health insurance for children. It’s not just that they only care about seniors, they also care about kids.
Selley Looby 10:59
Yeah. Celinda is just a master at what she does. And the way that she frames questions and the issues and the sub issues that she gets that really do help for us paint a better picture of where voters are, you know, in their minds on a number of different issues, you know, even including public safety.
Bruce Lesley 11:17
Absolutely. We know, from the poll that people are concerned that we’re not investing enough in reducing gun violence and Sel, you’ve got kids in public schools, and you have childcare issues, how did the public fare on those issues?
Selley Looby 11:30
Overwhelmingly in favor in support of these issues. I mean, and I can definitely attest to the cluster that is childcare in America today, who no matter any way you slice it, whether it’s a in home support, actual facility, daycare situation, major issues with staffing with curriculum with, you know, all of the above. So that’s an issue also that impacts families at all different socio economic levels. But absolutely, when you think about families that, you know, have second shift jobs, third shift jobs, I mean, their childcare options are very limited.
Bruce Lesley 12:04
Yeah. And if Congress really wants people to be working and supporting that people need childcare. I mean, it’s just a fact. And instead, what Congress is doing is allowing those dollars to expire. And there’s an estimate that 3 million people will lose childcare in the next few months if Congress doesn’t extend that funding. And so there’s a huge disconnect in Congress about what the American public believes, and also what they really need.
Selley Looby 12:29
Absolutely. I mean, I think that latest census numbers really demonstrate and highlight what families are going through right now, now that you know that credit has expired.
Bruce Lesley 12:37
And with respect to the Child Tax Credit, it’s expiration means that an additional 3 million children have been pushed back into poverty. In fact, the combination of all those things actually more than doubled child poverty in this country between 2021 and 2022. That is not the direction that parents support or even the American public and it’s certainly really bad for kids. And to dive further into these questions, we’re really pleased to have Celinda Lake join us today.
Selley Looby 13:08
Celinda Lake was one of the two main pollsters for the Biden campaign, is the only democratic pollster to play a major role in defeating two incumbent presidents and is a prominent pollster and political strategist for progressives. Celinda currently serves as president of Lake Research Partners. Celinda works with innovative messaging projects that help redefine language on the economy, inequality, big money in politics, climate change, public schools, teachers, criminal justice reform, and has worked in depth on the race class narrative work.
Bruce Lesley 13:41
To me, one of the greatest things about Celinda has her focus on both women’s issues and children’s issues, she really gets the inherent issues facing them. And she, for example, did some really great work with us way back on this sort of question of who’s for kids and who’s just kidding.
Selley Looby 13:59
All time favorite slogan, who’s for kids, and who’s just kidding, I’m gonna put it on a hat.
Bruce Lesley 14:05
Hi Celinda, it’s so great to have you today. I just want people to know, you know, we’ve known each other since the 1990s. And I just am a huge fan of Celinda’s work and all that she does in this space. But anyway, we just want to thank you for being here with us today.
Celinda Lake 14:19
Thank you so much. It goes both ways, some of the most important and most positive work we’ve done has been with you, Bruce. So thank you so much.
Bruce Lesley 14:27
Well, I think the first question we want to ask you is what is it like to be a pollster? And what kind of work is that? And how is that relevant to people in society?
Celinda Lake 14:37
I love polling because I love to hear what people are thinking. And I think very, very often not always, but very often the public is way ahead of some of the elites and our conventional wisdom. And I love turning conventional wisdom on its head. For example, in the work we’ve done with you that we’ll talk about later on child tax credit was really true.
Bruce Lesley 14:59
Celinda Lake 15:00
I love hearing why people think the way they do. And I often feel that they’re very ill served. We’re a kind of unique polling firm, we don’t just pull for where you’re at. And we don’t tell people, let’s take people where they’re at, we want to head where we think it’s most important to head with our clients. And then we find out how do we get the public there? Or are they already there, we don’t tell elected officials. And in fact, our client base wouldn’t work anyway, we don’t tell them what to believe. But we figure out what they believe and then how to move it forward. We’re progressive firm. And when we started out, people said, you can either be a major firm, or you can be progressive, but you can’t be both. And we said, well, we’re going to try and just see, and thanks to good friends like you and good causes, we’ve been able to be a progressive, firm, and still have, I hope, major impact. A third of our work is for foundations, a third of our work is for issue advocacy groups. And a third of our work is for candidates. And we think that’s a great synergy. And we also do a lot of work on initiatives. And we’ve done some of that work with you all, because we love the idea of people getting to vote directly on ideas, and I’m originally from Montana. So that’s a big initiative state where people really like having their say.
Selley Looby 16:15
And Celinda, you’ve been at this for a very long time, when you think back to even 20, 30 years ago to now. Are there any insights that you’ve noticed as it relates to polling and the information that you’re getting? Or how willing people are to answer your questions?
Celinda Lake 16:31
Yeah, so unfortunately, it’s gotten harder and harder. Polling is also used and abused so badly. We were one of the first firms along with the Tarrace Group to come out against push polling, because it’s not polling, it’s canvassing or whatever you want to call it persuasion, but it’s not polling. And then you have commercial outlets and fundraising that pretends to be a poll, but isn’t really so, people’s response rates have really plummeted. And there used to be times when we could get like, 73% of the voters to answer our polls. And now we’re down to 20% if we’re lucky, much, much harder to get people to respond much harder to reach people, and to have truly representative samples. So it’s gotten a lot harder to poll. I do find that people when they’re really truly believe they’re being asked their opinions. And we reassure people that everything they say is confidential, and there are no right or wrong answers just what they think, then people are very willing, but it’s hard to poll today.
Bruce Lesley 17:33
So to get into the kid stuff a little bit. You know, one of the things that we would complain about is that kids are such an afterthought, and often invisible in terms of policymaking. And yet, in the work you’ve done with us, you’ve really shown that actually voters do care. And so how do you judge salience like some people would say, oh, sure, kids poll well, but no one really cares. Is that true? Or are actually kids salient to voters, both parents and the general public?
Celinda Lake 18:02
We look at salience in a lot of different ways. We look at the intensity that people feel like sure, you know, 70% of people support something. But what’s the strong support? We ask people will they vote this issue if a candidate did not support this policy? Would they actually vote the issue? Or Wouldn’t it make any difference to them? We asked people to rank priorities of issues. And very often children’s issues are very strongly at the top. The problem is that I think there are two problems for the movement. One problem is the issue agenda is so broad, and so diffuse. If you’re going to fight for seniors, you know exactly what you want to do. You want to go fight for Social Security, Medicare, if you’re going to fight for children, it’s a huge agenda. In some ways, we’ve made some steps forward, but in lots of ways, we’ve made some steps backwards. And that’s very frustrating. Probably one of the things I was most frustrated about with the children’s agenda is that we took away the Child Tax Credit, through three and a half million children back into poverty. You could never do that, say take away Social Security, and throw three and a half million seniors back into poverty, rightly so. But that happened without a blip on the radar. So I think it’s very frustrating. The second thing, I think, is that the agenda is so diffuse, it’s so big, and it very often isn’t talked about in values oriented language. You know, we’ve learned a long time ago from George Lakoff the side that sets the frame wins the debate, and framing beats the facts. If the facts don’t fit the frame, then people reject the facts, not the frame. And now we’re in an era of alternative facts. So we can’t just win this with facts, we can’t win with statistics. They all help. And it’s very important to document and experts, but we have to set a values oriented frame. And I think we often jump immediately into the debate before we do that.
Bruce Lesley 20:13
Well, you brought up the CTC, which for our listeners is the Child Tax Credit. And it’s really interesting, because there’s been a lot of polling on various aspects of the Child Tax Credit, and the numbers are kind of all over the place. Right? There’s some polling that shows that voters support it, but not by a wide margin. And then in the work you did with us, there’s a 51% was 72-21 in support of the Child Tax Credit. And so is that part to this issue, the framing and sort of how you talk about it, or what explains that gap and the salience of the child tax credit to voters?
Celinda Lake 20:48
One of the problems with the Child Tax Credit, and it’s a problem often with a lot of the children’s issue agenda is that people don’t know what we’re talking about. You don’t have to explain to people what Medicare is you don’t have to explain to people what Social Security is. So the support for the Child Tax Credit depends very much on how you word it. Because a lot of people come to the table, not knowing what we’re talking about. And the default children’s agenda tends to be good public schools. That’s a place where people think, Okay, well, that’s where I can make a difference. Even if I don’t have children, I can support good public schools and young people, Millennials and Gen Zers, college educated women, a lot of people very, very supportive of investing in public education. But when you get beyond that, to the 360 degree view, a lot of people don’t know what the agenda is, and don’t know what these programs are.
Selley Looby 21:45
We also asked about overall spending on children. And by a 5 to 1 margin voters really do believe that we’re spending too little on children.
Celinda Lake 21:55
Selley Looby 21:55
And where their mind goes via education or other services that you know, free lunch, for example, or things that are more widely acceptable in in the regular vocabulary of every day parents is that really where the disconnect comes in in your opinion? When yes, we know that we’re not investing enough, but then the solution to that is okay, well, then where should we invest? Or how does that resonate with you?
Celinda Lake 22:20
Yeah it’s a very complicated issue. And you’re right, 56% of the people say we’re spending too little only 10% say we’re spending too much. And you have people really supporting more spending, when you talk about specific policies. Two thirds basically think we’re spending too little reducing poverty, accessing mental health, which is a huge agenda item, reducing child abuse, reducing child homelessness. And there’s quite a bit of increased awareness about some of these issues like child homelessness, like mental health, but people aren’t sure how are these programs delivered, particularly the younger children, they think, okay, we spend, you know, a little more here and a little more there and a little more everywhere, and it starts to add up to real money, they want to set some priorities. People are tax sensitive, and they are increasingly tax sensitive in the current era because in an inflationary period, people get very tax sensitive, including some of our most supportive constituencies like Latino voters who are very supportive of children’s issues, but are very tax sensitive as well, particularly in this high inflationary period. So it’s very, very complicated. People are also feeling like, oh, we’re spending so much in Ukraine can we afford? Whether you support that money or not, can we afford to increase spending and all these other areas? And where does it stop? People also like programs that sound more universal, one of the things that the seniors agenda has is such an advantage is everyone thinks they are going to be a senior someday, God willing, a lot of people have responsibility for aging elders in their family. And people see children and children’s investment as kind of a five year problem like child care five year problem that gets better every year, seniors can be a 20 year problem that gets worse every year. So it’s easier to amass momentum behind the seniors agenda than it is behind the children’s agenda. But the point is, a lot of people have assumed that that means people don’t want to invest in children don’t think we need to and that’s categorically wrong. Bipartisanly people think we spend too little. And when we’re talking about specific investments, people feel very strongly about that.
Bruce Lesley 24:44
You know, as a follow up on that, I think in our polling with you over the years, education has always been really high and health have really been the two highest polling issues. But in this last poll you did with us it was actually child hunger. And child homelessness was really up there. And what do you think brought that about? Was it the pandemic, the economic challenges that people really saw them? Because early in the pandemic, as you’ll recall, like people were like, kids are fine. And it was sort of over time, people really realized that was not the case. Do you think that was what really moved that and why those had bigger resonance with voters as well?
Celinda Lake 25:24
Yes, I think what’s really interesting, in some ways, the specificity has meant that people are thinking more seriously about it. People used to have these two kind of throwaway buckets, education, health care, that’s where we should invest. But it was hard to turn that into specific programs, people paid a lot of attention to what happened to children and their grandchildren during the pandemic, and they’re very worried about it. And so the specific agenda of abuse and neglect, reducing child poverty, child homelessness, those things even beat public education, health care, although they were quite strong as well. So I think people got more of a sense of what are some of the specifics? What are some of the crises for young people and children? What did we lose? And how are we going to regain it, and people paid more attention than they had in the past, if they didn’t have young children. I think we also had some breakthroughs in the sense that with the child tax credit, and with some of the other programs, even though it’s very frustrating, what happened in the long run that they were seen as short term programs, not long term, that we were able to create much more of a sense of the difference that could be made with public investment. Before that people alternated between thinking, yes, we need to invest in children, we need to make public investment and public education was a place for that. But it’s also personal family responsibility, we can’t intervene. We shouldn’t be telling people how to raise their families, they need to make their own judgments. People are responsible for deciding how many children they want. And I think in this era, people have much more of a sense of how the specific public investments could work, how they could be delivered, and how you can combine the private and the public responsibility.
Selley Looby 27:13
That’s a great point. And, you know, in your view, with respect to the development of just federal government policies that involve children, you know, voters expressed widely that they do agree that there should be a child well being standard, or, you know, always being governed by best interest standard, even outside because we find, and this is, you know, our work, but there’s always a kid angle to any issue, right? Like even your example, with Ukraine, there still is a kid issue in there, right? Like, what does that look like? Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Celinda Lake 27:46
Yes, I think you make a really, really interesting point. And I think that’s not developed enough. We’ve been talking about programs for children in very targeted ways for a long time. And that’s made people think it’s kind of a niche program, rather than a broad program. One of the things we found, and it seems so obvious, after the fact that it really helps to talk about investments in children as investments in children and grandchildren, because older voters vote in very high numbers much higher than the parents of young children. And they vote in off year elections. And they really want to do something for their grandchildren, and feel very flummoxed after the COVID experience. What can I do, and also, sometimes their suggestions aren’t very welcomed by their children, about what to do about their grandchildren. So we see, for example, seniors voting for children’s initiatives and record numbers around the COVID era, even before COVID because they wanted to make investments in children and grandchildren, we find that it’s very powerful to talk about, that investing in children has a large return on a healthy society, and a healthy economy. So unfortunately, we’ve had too many ads, and including late night ads on TV and ads for very good programs, but all over the world that have young children in very poor conditions. And it’s easy to create that sympathy and that emotional reaction, but then it also numbs people. They think, well, what can I do about hunger in Sudan? What can I do about children in poverty in Peru? So it’s helpful, very helpful, to have success stories, and to talk about the payoff that these investments have for the children and also for our society. And then we have two thirds of people who now think that the next generation will not be better off than they are, and this is very acute for the baby boomers, and it’s very anti the myth we tell ourselves about America. America was a place where people firmly firmly believed it that if you came here, you worked hard, you could ensure a better future for your children. And everybody could do that. And we had a wonderful woman in a focus group recently say a very poignant quote, she said, you know, it used to be that if you work really hard, you could ensure your kids had a chance at the American dream. Now, if you work very hard, you can barely pay your bills. And that’s the collective psyche of the country. And it’s very violating of why people come here, it’s very violating of what we think of as the American story. And people were very upset about that they want to change that. They think it’s a fundamental aspect of decline in America. But they want it to be something that they think they can accomplish right now, the enemy of investment in children is actually not opposition, it’s cynicism. People wonder, will this work? What are we specifically supposed to be doing? How can we do all these things at once? Will the money be well spent? Will it have return? And I think that was something that the COVID experience helped us with, because it shows that public investments could make a difference.
Selley Looby 31:13
What Celinda is talking about, here’s something, you know, we’ve been feeling at First Focus forever, this notion that there’s two agendas. On one hand, we have an agenda that’s really kid centered, family centered, and really favors investments in education and child well being and in looking at the future of children and families in this country and making investments and critical programs. And on the other side, we have something that’s drastically different. Another agenda, right, Bruce?
Bruce Lesley 31:42
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the real focus should be on what kids really need. And instead, there’s this whole push to focus on some of the issues that’s really more a cultural agenda and it’s focused on things like banning books and white washing history and speech codes and even attacks on kids in some ways, right? There’s been these sort of attacks on LGBTQ kids and, and that’s really not what kids need, and we’ll be getting into that with Celinda after this.
Leila Nimatallah 32:13
Making the world a better place for all children can seem like an impossibly huge task. Some of you may be thinking, I am just one person. What could I possibly do to make a difference? I’m Leila Nimatallah, Vice President of advocacy and mobilization at First Focus on Children. And I’m inviting you to join us and become one of our volunteer advocates, whom we call our Ambassadors for children. Ambassadors are our most active child advocates who raise critical issues with the US Congress, and with the administration related to child policy and funding decisions, both for kids in the US and worldwide. But don’t take my word for it. We asked one of our Ambassadors to share her experience.
Annette Bridges 33:03
Hello, my name is Annette Bridges, also known as Dr. B. And I live in Louisville, Kentucky. The welfare of children and their families is a deep concern for me, and really always has been, especially those from marginalized communities. I care about equity and education, resources and help. And I’m not quite sure what is going to take for our elected officials to invest in our children. And I mean fully invest in our children. It really boils down to the haves and have nots. It’s a selfish attitude if an elected official does not consider children as a priority. I say selfish, because if you think about it, other countries with less resources can provide universal preschool as an option for families, then why is it that our country can’t do that as well. I am proud to be an Ambassador for First Focus on Children because they are serious about the work they have done, are doing and will do in the near future. Their efforts are relentless. Think about being an Ambassador for them being a voice for the voiceless. I can’t think of anything else more worthy. Thanks for listening. And it’s been my pleasure to talk about what is near and dear to my heart. And that is children. Thank you for your time.
Leila Nimatallah 34:25
So please join us won’t you? Check out campaignforchildren.org/ambassadors on how to become a First Focus on Children Ambassador and to link up with our fabulous community of committed child advocates.
Selley Looby 34:52
First Focus on Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority and federal policy and budget decisions.
Bruce Lesley 35:02
First Focus on Children moves beyond individual issues to serve a more important role, children’s advocates, we educate lawmakers and the American public about the issues facing children.
Selley Looby 35:12
Our Ambassadors program is made up of regular people just like you
Bruce Lesley 35:16
What we know and what I personally experienced on the Hill was that when you reach out to policymakers, the first couple of times, they may say, oh, you know, we’re really got to think about this issue. But by the time they’ve heard an issue, really just six times, so we used to refer to this as the power of six, and once you sort of get to that sixth time, they actually recognize this is a big issue to people. So it’s not one of these things that we need to have thousands and thousands of people to call, we really just need policymakers to hear from six people in a district. And if they do, it really does have a major impact on the way they see and think about issues.
Selley Looby 35:57
Small and mighty team. Leila Nimatallah will be here to talk about what’s going on the way people really care about kids issues, but Congress doesn’t pay attention in our upcoming segment, legislative state of play. Now back to our conversation with Celina Lake.
Bruce Lesley 36:13
One of the things that we’ve talked about, and I think, to piggyback on what you were just talking about in terms of, you know, the cynicism that some people have about whether it’s a doable thing is sort of there’s two agendas, right. And so, there’s an agenda of investing in kids like the Child Tax Credit, and investing in reducing and preventing child abuse and reducing child hunger and education and all those kinds of things. And then there’s this other agenda that’s being wildly talked about right now around book bans, and whitewashing history and, and lots of the cultural war issues. And so, can you talk about that from your perspective as a pollster? And then also, what advice would you have to the children’s community about how can we seize back this debate and really get our issues back in the forefront? Because to us, it’s very clear that that is actually where voters are, but I’ll defer to you on that.
Celinda Lake 37:09
So there are three things I think and it’s super important question that you’re asking. And one of the things that we have is we are back on our heels a little bit. I think that people assume this wedge agenda is more popular than the investment agenda, it turns out, it’s not. People overwhelmingly, and when given the choice, vote for the investment agenda. And they find that this, this cultural agenda is very, very divisive. It really exists in three buckets. First of all, they’re the things that the public’s adamantly against the public is adamantly against banning books really upset about that idea. And I think parents should obviously know what their kids are reading, and should have some say in what their children are reading. But there are also a lot of people that just think I just wish my kid would read any book. Teachers have been very proactive and letting parents know what their kids are reading. So parents don’t see this as a problem. And even when this agenda was so called put forth in the Virginia gubernatorial race, it actually didn’t influence parents. The irony is that we won parents, we lost the silver seniors, they were the ones who were mobilized. They were the ones that were frightened. And then when people were told what some of the books were, that we were banning, like Anne Frank, and Rosa Parks, my goodness, Bruce, we read Anne Frank and Rosa Parks when I was a kid.
Bruce Lesley 38:37
Celinda Lake 38:38
And I love both of those books. I was really went home raced home to read both of those books to my parents, and I lived in rural Montana. So you would have thought quite far from that experience, but I was mesmerized by them. There is a whole bucket of these things that people really, really don’t actually very opposed to and wondering what is the problem here, I don’t think we’ve got a problem. The second bucket is things that at first sound unnerving, that people when we respond to them and respond shortly and flip the frame, are very strong for us. So for example, this whole CRT, which people had no idea what CRT was. And then when we would say we don’t teach CRT in elementary school with people thought, well, what is CRT? Maybe we shouldn’t be teaching it if we don’t teach it. What are we talking about here? And I think the President had what I have thought of as one of his shortest and most successful responses. When he was asked this question. He said, I just think our kids should be taught to truth. And people were like, wildly in favor of that, like that’s it. And people also think very strongly that our kids should be taught the good and the bad of our history. So they don’t make the same mistakes we have. People are adamantly in favor of that. And then there’s an agenda where we do have to have a dialogue, where people are confused about what we’re talking about and out of their nervousness, they do tend to be more conservative in their frame. And that’s the transgender agenda. And you know, when you refrain that, like, the whole bathroom issue is ridiculous. Have we ever taken our children on a plane? Have the children ever been in a train, these are not the burning issues of our time. People guess now the public guesses now that 25% of all people in America are transgender, it’s 1-2%. So people clearly have no idea what we’re talking about here. And in that absence of knowledge and awareness, people come to be nervous about that issue. But in general, stepping back here, when we talk about this cultural agenda, it is solidly beat when we say which is a higher priority. It is solidly beat by the investment agenda. And frankly, we talked about having responses, one of the things we should do is answer quickly, and then pivot back to where our strength is, our economic and investment messages, beat their cultural messages. A lot of this is about uniting and energizing their base. It’s not the agenda people aren’t running around. Talking about this is the major thing they want to see done for children.
Selley Looby 41:23
And Celina, you know, for us, we’re, you know, this, we are a bipartisan child advocacy organization. So we want to see elected officials, folks that are getting in the race, showcase and feature children in their platform. When they’re campaigning, we know that voters want to see this happen. They want to see more investments in kids. What do you think the disconnect is? Or what do you think the fear is around really prominently putting kids issues in the forefront around elections and campaigns?
Celinda Lake 41:55
I think they’re three things. I think one thing is that voters are cynical. And I remember the Children’s Hospital campaign years and years ago, who’s for kids, and who’s just kidding, people think, yeah, every politician puts a young kid in their ad, every politician kisses a baby, every politician shakes the hand of a young person, but where’s the agenda, and they’re not sure who’s for kids, and who’s just kidding, they’re not sure who is really going to follow through. And they’re very cynical about our political process now. So they want accountability and organizations like yours, putting out the votes. And if we can get those voting records and those votes out more broadly, to the voting public, that would help us a lot, because people are very cynical, everybody claims to be for kids, but who’s actually really voting. The flip side of it is people think, who would vote for keeping kids hungry? Like, if we say, the debate that’s about to come up on the food agenda, people are appalled at the number of kids that are going to school hungry, they’re really upset by it, they really support the breakfast and school lunch programs, they support making them universal. They’re very supportive of the weekend, you know, backpacks that are sent home, that teachers are very powerful spokespeople, how teachers are spending their meager wages on food for kids before tests, because who can take a test well, if they’re hungry, who are really upset about this. And yet, when we say so and so voted against food for children, people are very skeptical, like who would vote against food for children, there must be more to this bill. So we have citizens, some working on both sides, people are skeptical that people are really bad on these issues. And people are skeptical that people are really good on these issues. And so it’s tough to hold people accountable. And again, you know, we have people that have enormous credibility and other agendas. So if whether you like them or not, it’s a labor union say somebody’s good or bad on labor issues, people assume, okay, I might not agree with them, but that’s the record. If AARP says somebody voted against prescription drug benefits, people think, okay, that’s the record. But there isn’t the kind of go to place for the children’s agenda, to hold politicians accountable. And they know it. And so they get away with just having the picture in their brochure rather than putting the real meat to the agenda.
Bruce Lesley 44:32
So I’ll ask it’s sort of a two part question. And around that is, what would your advice be to us in this campaign season to sort of change that, but then two, more about you, which is, you know, we do this whole thing where we give champions for children awards people and we really think of you as one of those people.
Celinda Lake 44:51
Oh, thank you.
Bruce Lesley 44:52
Oh, absolutely. And as you decided to, you know, be in this field and stuff. You could have gone you could have done polling for companies. And, you know, and messaging around brands, you know, but you really have, you know, you’re the number one, I think pollster in this space on things like, you know, women’s issues and children’s issues, health care issues. So what got you there? Like was that your jam?
Celinda Lake 45:16
Well, thank you so much. And I am very, very fortunate to have five other partners who share that jam, and are passionate about it. So when we came together as a firm, and that was, it was 30 years ago, I had a couple of partners, and then the people that have joined have shared the same goal. We said, We don’t want to make the most money. We don’t want to elect the most candidates. What we want to do is we want to be for change, but we want to be realistic about that change. And so our clients often tell us, you know, some people will say, Well, you know, late partners only produces feel good data. And, you know, our clients kind of laugh at that and say, have you ever been in a briefing with Celina or her partners? That’s not what’s happening. They’re very, very honest. We want to be very strategic, and really understand what is the soft side? How will somebody come back at us what’s holding us up. But we want to leave the world better off. And we want to leave the world better off for the people that are most vulnerable. We’ve really been committed, as a firm to children, we feel very passionate about that. And feel like children are the future. It is ridiculous in a country that is this great, that we can’t have a great future for every child in our country. And we feel incredibly committed to that. And we want to be partnered, and we’re very fortunate to be partnered with groups like yours. And we also don’t think this is a partisan issue. When we look at the data, it’s not partisan. And we’ve been lucky and very fortunate to be able to work with a number of Republican pollsters who have shared this view as well. And people think, well, you’re a progressive firm, how can you do so much work with Republican pollsters? It’s because we can find common ground, and some of them are committed as well.
Selley Looby 47:05
And on that point, you recently wrote a book with your fellow Republican pollster Ed Goeas that’s remarkable. Can you talk a little bit about your book?
Celinda Lake 47:16
Oh, thank you so much. That’s so generous. And Ed is the real hero of that book. He was the inspiration. It’s a book called It’s a Question of Respect. And what we wanted to look at where this structural and cultural reasons that we were so polarized, because there’s a general sense that any three people in America can agree on more than Congress does right now. And what is happening? What are the incentive structures that are creating this? What are the cultural forces that are creating us because we both feel that the polarization that we have in this country is very destructive. It’s increasing distrust and cynicism, and stopping an agenda that could be agreed on. And it’s very, very dangerous for democracy and stalls the progress that we want to make. We had been involved in an effort for a long time called the Battleground Survey, which we started 35 years ago, where we decided to write a bipartisan poll, but where we wrote separate analysis, so we obviously had to agree on the questions. But then we wrote each wrote our own analysis from our own perspective. And it was a wonderful experience, because we learned a lot about how each other saw the same set of data and it became a real resource for people to learn how people think through strategy. What does the public agree on? What are they not agreeing on? What would each side do with this data? So we had been used to working together. One of the things we did in the book was we wrote about the problems in the we voice. And then we wrote about the solutions in the I voice because we had different solutions. But some of those solutions could be worked together and some of those solutions were different kinds of solutions. We also found that we shared a lot of common experience that made writing this book pretty easy. And it was fun to share with people. So both of us had been raised by families, my family a ranch family, his family a military family that believed very much in respecting everyone. We were really raised with that value. The second thing we found is that and we knew this a long time ago, that in the same year, in the same election, we changed parties. So in 1972, I was a Republican and became a Democrat in 1972, Ed was a Democrat and became a Republican. And he often teases me that he went to the winning side, but we’ve had our share of victories as well. So that was a great basis because neither one of us hates the other party. Heck, half of our families are from the other parties, and we were born and raised in the other party, so it’s helped us have respect for you each other it’s helped us have respect for looking for a common agenda and looking for ways to reduce polarization.
Selley Looby 50:07
Celinda, thank you for that overview, just by the interviews, and it looked like y’all had a great time writing that book we did. And I’m happy that you’ve shared it with the world. You know, when you think about the environment that we live in now, it is very polarized. And so what gives you inspiration? Do you have a go to song that, you know, may just get you out of a funk on on a difficult day?
Celinda Lake 50:31
Well, I’ll tell you, it’s gonna be funny, given the book that we just talked about. But the song that gives me hope and strength and keeps me moving, is Respect by Aretha Franklin.
Selley Looby 50:42
Celinda Lake 50:43
It is such a core value, and she calls it out. And the women’s movement has been very important in my life. Very important goal for me, and just the combination of respect and strength because sometimes people mistake bullying and toughness for strength. And that’s not true. And what I love about that song is it’s energizing. It’s respecting people. It comes from a place of strength, and it’s one of my all time favorite singers.
Selley Looby 51:11
I love it.
Bruce Lesley 51:12
That’s awesome. I mean, my mom would be doing cartwheels to hear you say that. It’s awesome. Well, Celinda, thank you so much for all you do, but also for joining us today on Speaking of Kids, we really appreciate your time and, and all the great work you do. So thanks. Thanks so much.
Celinda Lake 51:31
Oh, thanks for this wonderful interview. Thanks for the partnership over the years. What you all do is just so amazing. I hope you win the lottery. And I hope we all join together on the agenda. Thank you.
Bruce Lesley 51:48
We’d like to welcome a voice you’ve heard before our colleague, Leila Nimatallah.
Leila Nimatallah 51:53
Thanks. Great to be here.
Selley Looby 51:55
Yeah. Leila, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m actually really curious to hear from you around what’s going on on the Hill? And where do you feel efforts are needed as it relates to our Ambassadors?
Leila Nimatallah 52:07
Oh, my goodness, where do I begin? The thing that I’m most focused on right now is the fact that the government may shut down if Congress isn’t able to pass its annual funding bills. And that’s kind of a big deal. So the reason I’m here today is really to ensure that we get the word out to everyday American folks, I think there’s a sense that Congress isn’t really able to get its job done at the moment that even if people weighed in and let Congress know about what they care about, that it won’t make a difference. The everyday person in my life that I talked to has a sense that things are just not working, and so that there’s really little that they can do to make a difference.
Bruce Lesley 53:04
And we know right, that they actually can and that if Congress does hear from people, it does matter, right?
Leila Nimatallah 53:12
Oh, so very much I, like Bruce also worked on the Hill. And I worked on the House side. And I don’t even know if it took six people to get our attention. Sometimes it took a far fewer amount of people. But the thing was that a lot of people just didn’t think they had the skills, or they were nervous about reaching out, or they didn’t think that what they said would make a difference. So they kind of stopped from the start. And the folks that we tended to hear from most were, you know, paid lobbyists, perhaps or folks that are very comfortable in that kind of space. And unfortunately, there aren’t many paid lobbyists for children. And the issues that most Americans care about, and the folks in my life and our lives, as well as all of us on this call, care about little ones, the kids in our lives and everybody else’s kids as well.
Selley Looby 54:11
I agree that it can be overwhelming to communicate with elected officials and your member of Congress, but that’s what you’re here for. Right. And we know that it’s not difficult. It’s just talking to them, like everyday Americans, human beings that, you know, have the same feelings and have the same experiences or maybe not quite the same experiences, but you know, at least it can be relatable. It doesn’t have to be difficult or complex.
Leila Nimatallah 54:38
Absolutely. Selley, they’re just folks just like us, you know, and a lot of them, maybe not all of them, but a lot of them went into Congress to make the world a better place or to contribute in some way to public good. And so we really have the opportunity to speak to their better angels when we go in there. And my old boss used to say things was like, he used to refer to something called a trim tab. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. I’ve never heard of it before. But it’s a small rudder on the bottom of an ocean liner, rudder. And you wouldn’t try to move an ocean liner like the US government by going to the front of the ocean liner and pushing at it from that side, it would just be too difficult and the ocean liner wouldn’t move. But you can move that tiny little rudder at the end of the big router of the ocean liner. And eventually that ocean liner will start to turn. And that’s what my boss was trying to tell us. Like, if you learn a few skills, learn them well use them over and over with these kinds of proven tactics that we have, you can make a big impact on moving that big ocean liner, it could be moving your member of Congress and encouraging them to include prioritize, speak about children, and eventually together if you move enough of those pieces within the ocean liner, maybe we’ll move Congress, our US government to prioritize the funding and the policies that benefit our children.
Bruce Lesley 56:08
Yeah kids don’t vote, they don’t have a political action committee. They don’t. And as you said, they don’t have lobbyists. So does that make our voice voices and also even young people themselves? They’re all the more important in really getting Congress to think about and understand its issues?
Leila Nimatallah 56:26
Oh, yes, 100% Bruce. That’s a fantastic point. When constituents go into their member of Congress’s office, they are given a better listening than a professional lobbyist, almost three times as much as I’ve heard, because they’re less expected. And you don’t have to, as a constituent, go in there and be an expert in policy, or child policy, or really anything, all you have to be an expert in is your opinion, and that you care about children. And the very fact that you’re a constituent of that member of Congress will carry weight in and of itself. And just, you know, we teach folks to be, you know, of course, cordial and work well, in a constructive way with our member of Congress. Unfortunately, these days, a lot of folks are not treating members of Congress very well. So when we go in there as constituents, and are pleasant and constructive and want to bring the member to the next level, you know, you don’t bring a member of Congress who’s done nothing or as opposed things to, you know, level number 10 right away, but you bring them to the next level and over time, you can turn them we hope and we we’ve seen in the past into a champion.
Selley Looby 57:41
Leila, I love that you only need to be an expert in your own opinion, which we all have opinions and thoughts. So that feels so,
Leila Nimatallah 57:48
We all have opinions.
Selley Looby 57:49
That feels warm and fuzzy. Leila, thank you so much for being here today.
Leila Nimatallah 57:54
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you both so much for having me.
Bruce Lesley 58:03
This is speaking of kids. Thanks for listening. I’m Bruce Lesley.
Selley Looby 58:06
And I’m a Messellech Looby special thanks to our guests Celinda Lake and Leila Nimatallah.
Bruce Lesley 58:12
Speaking of Kids is a podcast by First Focus on Children.
Selley Looby 58:15
Elizabeth Windom is the supervising producer and Julia Windham is the associate producer. Special thanks to Stephanie for production assistance.
Bruce Lesley 58:25
Leila Nimantallah is the advocacy and mobilizing producer, and the senior producer is Jay Woodward.
Selley Looby 58:31
Our theme music is don’t look twice by Sam Farsh.
Bruce Lesley 58:35
For more information about this week’s episode, go to first focus.org. You can find all our links in the show notes.
Selley Looby 58:42
If you have any thoughts, questions or interest in becoming a First Focus on Children Ambassador, email us at speakingofkids@first focus.org
Bruce Lesley 58:51
And please follow rate and review on Apple podcasts Spotify or YouTube.
Selley Looby 58:56
Speaking of Kids is produced by Windhaven productions and Blue Jay Atlantic.