When Will Candidates Close The Empathy Gap On Research For Health?

We are in the throes of an election season in which divisive issues are at the forefront. One issue that a majority of Americans can agree on is advancing research to combat deadly and debilitating diseases. It would be both refreshing and well-received if candidates for President and Congress were to elevate medical progress in conversations with voters.

Despite a 24-hour news cycle, very few Americans know where the candidates stand on public or private sector research. Just 12% of those surveyed remember hearing a presidential candidate discuss medical research in the last 30-60 days, according to a survey commissioned by Research!America. The results are still lower for congressional candidates - only 9% remember hearing them talk about research. Yet 80% of Americans say it is important for the next President and the next Congress to assign a high priority to putting health research and innovation to work to assure continued medical progress. A majority of respondents say candidates have done a poor job relating to the health concerns and expectations of Americans. This view is shared by African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and non-Hispanic whites alike, with every demographic saying that candidates are not paying attention to the concerns of people like them. It's time to close this empathy gap. Candidates must start emphasizing their detailed plans to combat the many health challenges facing Americans and our global neighbors, from Alzheimer's to Zika.

A strong majority of Americans (81%) agree that medicines available today have improved their quality of life and even more (91%) say it is important to develop better medicines for conditions we currently treat. We can't afford to take continued medical progress for granted, or short-change it as a priority. Support for research and development is evident in the willingness of many Americans, including minority groups, to pay an additional $1 per week in taxes if they knew for sure the money would go towards investments in research. The message is clear: Americans realize medical progress is inextricably linked to better health. But they don't think candidates are upholding their best interests.

Democrats and Republicans recently released their respective party platforms; blueprints that outline their views on what they consider to be national priorities.

The Democratic party platform underscores the need for increased research funding: "We must accelerate the pace of medical progress, ensuring that we invest more in our scientists and give them the resources they need to invigorate our fundamental studies in the life sciences in a growing, stable, and predictable way." The platform also calls for increased investments in public health, and an expanded "community-based treatment for substance abuse disorders and mental health conditions."

The Republican party platform highlights the positive impact research has had on human health, and declares that "federal and private investment in basic and applied biomedical research holds enormous promise." The platform calls for "expanded support for the stem-cell research that now offers the greatest hope for many afflictions -- through adult stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and cells reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells -- without the destruction of embryonic human life." The platform ignores or rejects the reality that embryonic stem cell research has led us closer to finding solutions for major health threats such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. More than half of Americans (57%) favor expanding federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells.

As indicated in their platforms, but not as of yet in candidates' speeches, both parties recognize the role of medical research and innovation in helping Americans live longer, productive lives. Now is the time for candidates to articulate their views.

Fleeting references to research will never be enough to convince voters that candidates are committed to fighting for cures. Substantive conversations are necessary to make research for health a higher national priority.