April 18, 2019
What Americans still want from government reform and how the answer will determine the 2020 election
NYU Professor Paul C. Light presented his latest research on how government reform could be the defining issue in who wins the presidency in 2020. Joining him in a panel discussion hosted by NYU Washington, DC to discuss the implications for 2020 following his presentation included Jocelyn Kiley, Associate Director of Research at Pew Research Center, William Kristol, Founder and Former Editor-at-large at the Weekly Standard, Karen Tumulty, Columnist at The Washington Post, and Vanessa Williamson, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
According to Professor Light's latest surveys, almost two-thirds of Americans now agree that the federal government needs very major government reform. Americans may agree that the federal government isn't working well, but are sharply divided about what the federal government should deliver. One group of Americans, which Light calls the "dismantlers" think the federal government needs reform and want a smaller government that delivers fewer services, while a second group, which Light calls the "rebuilders" also think the federal government needs reform but want a bigger government that delivers more services. According to Light's research, the dismantlers and rebuilders form the core of the 2020 electorate but are still in play. The dismantlers still back Donald Trump for president but have increasing doubts about his performance, while the rebuilders have yet to find a candidate who speaks directly to their desire for better government performance. Much as the current field of Democratic candidates agree on the need for campaign and ethics reform, Americans also want the federal government to be more effective and responsive to the public.
Jocelyn Kiley is associate director of research at Pew Research Center, where she primarily works on U.S. public opinion about politics. She is involved in all stages of the research process at the Center, and is a principal investigator on the Center’s work on political polarization in the American public, as well as its regular election polling.
William Kristol is a founding director of Defending Democracy Together, an educational and advocacy organization dedicated to defending America’s liberal democratic norms, principles, and institutions. Kristol has long been recognized as a leading participant in and analyst of American politics and has helped shape the national debate on issues ranging from American foreign policy to the meaning of American conservatism. Kristol was a founder of the Weekly Standard in 1995 and edited the influential magazine for over two decades. Before starting the Weekly Standard, Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, where he helped developed the strategy that produced the 1994 Republican congressional victory. Before that, Mr. Kristol served in senior positions in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations. Before coming to Washington, Mr. Kristol taught politics at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. He received his undergraduate degree and his Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Paul C. Light is NYU Wagner's Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service and founding principal investigator of the Global Center for Public Service, Before joining NYU, Dr. Light served as the Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, founding director of its Center for Public Service, and vice president and director of the Governmental Studies Program. He has served previously as director of the Public Policy Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts and associate dean and professor of public affairs at the University of Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Light is the author of 25 books, including works on social entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector, federal government reform, public service, and the baby boom. His most recent book is Government by Investigation: Presidents, Congress, and the Search for Answers, 1945-2012 (2014). His award winning books include The President's Agenda: Domestic Policy Choice from Kennedy to Clinton (1998), Thickening Government: Federal Hierarchy and the Diffusion of Accountability (1995), The Tides of Reform: Making Government Work, 1945-1995 (1997), and A Government Ill Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It 2008). A Government Ill Executed received the American Political Science Association's Herbert Simon Award for the most important book on public administration in the preceding three-to-five years upon publication. Light is also a co-author of a best-selling American government textbook, Government by the People. His research interests include: bureaucracy, civil service, Congress, entitlement programs, executive branch, government reform, nonprofit effectiveness, organizational change, and the political appointment process.
Karen Tumulty is a columnist for The Washington Post. In her previous role as a national political correspondent for the newspaper, she received the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. She joined The Post in 2010 from Time magazine, where she had held the same title. During her more than 15 years at Time, Tumulty wrote or co-wrote more than three dozen cover stories. She also held positions with Time as congressional correspondent and White House correspondent.
Vanessa Williamson is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings. She studies the politics of redistribution, with a focus on attitudes about taxation.
She is the author of Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes. Bringing together national survey data with in-depth interviews, Read My Lips presents a surprising picture of tax attitudes in the United States. Americans view taxpaying as a civic responsibility and moral obligation. But they worry that others are shirking their duties, in part because the experience of taxpaying misleads Americans about who pays taxes and how much. Upending the idea of Americans as knee-jerk opponents of government, Read My Lips examines American taxpaying as an act of political faith.
Williamson is also the author, with Harvard professor Theda Skocpol, of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which examines how the Tea Party pushed the Republican Party farther to the right. The book was named one of the ten best political books of the year in the New Yorker.
Her academic research on the interplay between policy and politics includes studies of the electoral effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the political impact of anti-union legislation, and the factors predicting protests against police brutality. She has also written about public opinion research methodology, including a re-examination of supposed public misperceptions of the costs of government waste and foreign aid, and an analysis of ethical considerations associated with crowdsourcing research.
She has written about tax opinion and tax politics for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage; about the Tea Party, anti-union legislation and taxpayer citizenship for the New York Times; and about democracy and organizing for Teen Vogue. She has discussed her research on NPR’s “Marketplace,” CSPAN’s “Washington Journal,” CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," and MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
Williamson previously served as the Policy Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She received her Ph.D. in Government and Social Policy from Harvard University.