Americans Want to Live in a Just Society

By Daniel Aldana Cohen @aldatweets; Julian Brave NoiseCat, @jnoisecat; Sean McElwee, @seanmcelwee

Today, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released a policy package called “A Just Society,” which amounts to an ambitious ensemble of six distinct legislative projects—five bills and one resolution—that together would make dramatic reductions that would help fulfill the promise of a truly just and equal democracy. So far, polling by Data for Progress on some key planks of this package indicates that these are very popular. Most of the results released today are being made public for the first time.


All together, these packages would attack inequalities through reforms to public policies and investments to bring greater benefits to people in need: workers, tenants, communities of color, and immigrants. Are Americans ready for the more egalitarian, justice-oriented policies that these bills promote? Is there widespread support for policies that would assist stigmatized populations like people convicted of crimes? 

The “Just Society” legislative package would update regulations to better recognize and eradicate poverty; protect tenants from eviction and unfair rent hikes; provide access to all relevant social services to people enmeshed in the criminal justice system; provide access to all relevant social services to immigrants; reform public procurement to benefit worker cooperatives and pro-worker businesses; and ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

So far, Data for Progress has polled key planks of the housing and criminal justice reform bills. Below, we report that polling, which finds strong support across the board for these policies. We also have forthcoming polling on other key planks of this package, especially with regard to immigration. We’ll release our findings as we get them.


The “Just Society” proposal includes a wide range of tenant protections, of which the most dramatic is universal rent control. Our polling on this, released today for the first time, suggests strong majority support for rent control (all polling in this blog comes from Data for Progress and YouGov Blue polling of registered voters nationally).

In early September, 2019 Data for Progress polled support for “A policy to create a national "tenant bill of rights" that would protect tenants' rights to safe, accessible, sustainable, affordable housing; to organize tenants' unions; to universal rent control; to lease renewal protection; and to legal counsel in housing court.” 58% of respondents support this, 30% opposed, and 12% are unsure. Among Democrats, 80% support a tenant bill of rights, among Republicans 35% support, and among independents 51% support.

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We have likewise found strong support for strong tenant protections in earlier polling.

Polling that we conducted in August found very strong support for a universal right to counsel, where all tenants facing eviction would be guaranteed legal representation.


Data for Progress has found majority support for zoning regulation reforms to ensure that low-cost apartments could be built in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. 


Data for Progress has found strong support for subsidies to help tenants cover rent.


And Data for Progress has found that voters are strongly supportive of requiring landlords to report data on evictions, rent increases and investment—an essential step in supporting pro-tenant policies at all levels of government.


Criminal Justice:

The core of the “Just Society” criminal justice reform bill is expanding the social safety net to fully cover all those who have been in contact with the prison system. These people face not just widespread discrimination and stigmatization; they are often unfairly restricted from accessing core social services from the government.

Data for Progress has just conducted extensive polling of American attitudes on criminal justice reform. Here, we are releasing results from three questions in advance, which are highly pertinent to the Just Society proposals. Our polling suggests strong majority support for public investments targeted those involved (presently, or previously) with the criminal justice system.

First, we asked if respondents support “New investments”—namely, Providing new government investments in restoring and revitalizing communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs and mass incarceration, particularly Black and Latino urban neighborhoods.

Overall, 60% of respondents supported this measure, with 16% unsure and 24% opposed. Even among Republicans, support and opposition are evenly split at 41% each.


Second, we asked if respondents support “Educational and vocational training”—namely, providing educational and vocational training to all people who are incarcerated to better prepare them for success when they return to their communities.

86% of respondents support such training, with 5% unsure and 8% opposed. Among Republicans, 85% support this training. 


Third, we asked if respondents support “Addiction and health treatment”—namely, providing addiction and mental health treatment, which includes overdose medication, to all people who need it, including people who are currently incarcerated.

76% of respondents support addiction and mental health treatment, with 10% unsure and 15% opposed. Among Republicans, 66% support this treatment, with 24% opposed.


In sum, our preliminary survey data on Ocasio-Cortez’s “Just Society” legislative package finds that the housing and criminal justice pillars are popular. We will release polling on the other pillars of the Just Society package when we get results back from surveys in the field. 

Speaking of her bill, Representative Ocasio-Cortez said, “I am both energized and humbled to introduce legislation today to build upon the most transformative programs of the last century. From the New Deal to the Great Society, we have shown time and again that our nation is capable of implementing big ideas and bold solutions that match the scale of the challenges we face. We must once again recognize the breadth and consequences of poverty in this country and work together to ensure a path forward to economic freedom for everyone.”.

The congresswoman is right.

Daniel Aldana Cohen is a Senior Fellow at Data for Progress
Julian Brave NoiseCat is the Director of Green New Deal Strategy at Data for Progress
Sean McElwee is a cofounder of Data for Progress

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