In the May issue of SpaceWatch, the newsletter of the Space Foundation, there’s an article by foundation president Elliot Pulham about public support for the new exploration plan. An excerpt:
…in survey upon survey over the past two decades we [the American public] have expressed overwhelming support for the nation’s civil space program. Nonetheless, our politicians remain narrowly focused on “mail box issues” — ignoring the silent majority of support for space exploration in favor of pandering to the much smaller audience of squeaky wheels — the letter writing vested interests who, although small in number, set the mailboxes of elected officials on fire if their benefit or entitlement is threatened.
This “squeaky wheel gets the grease” mindset has led to the all-too-familiar refrain on Capitol Hill, “I’m not getting any mail on that.” Well, duh. Americans are not likely to be whipped into a letter-writing frenzy over an issue that they regard as such an apple-pie no-brainer. The challenge is for elected officials to act as leaders of public opinion rather than followers of their mailbox.
This is an interesting argument, but I don’t know how valid it really it is. While public support of space exploration, in the broadest, most general terms, might be significant, that support tends to drop off as more details, particularly the cost of such plans, emerge. Polls ranging from a CBS/New York Times poll in January to one that focused on people living in only one part of upstate New York showed, at best, lukewarm support for the new plan based on the details available at the time. Proponents of the Vision for Space Exploration should be careful about assuming that a vast “silent majority” exists in support of the plan, and continue to sell the plan to the public as well as Congress.