In the five years since the Obama administration launched its online "We the People" petition system, health care has been the most common topic of petitions submitted through the system, a report from the Pew Research Center finds.
The report, 'We the People': Five Years of Online Petitions (HTML or 29 pages, PDF), found that of the online petitions posted to site that received at least a hundred and fifty signatures in the first thirty days, 371 were about the healthcare system (8 percent), followed by military and veterans issues (6 percent), specific illnesses (6 percent), and immigration policy (5 percent). Rounding out the top ten were requests to honor individuals or create holidays ((5 percent), requests to investigate specific criminal cases (5 percent), animal rights (5 percent), education policy (4 percent), gun control or gun rights (4 percent), and requests to punish public officials (4 percent).
The single most popular petition, with 367,180 signatures, was a request to recognize the Westboro Baptist Church — whose members regularly picket burial services for U.S. service personnel and confront people with anti-gay slogans — as a hate group. The second most popular involved a conflict over disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In launching the online system as part of its Open Government Initiative, the Obama administration promised to issue responses to all petitions that received five thousand — later raised to a hundred thousand — signatures within thirty days. According to the report, online petitions helped shape the White House's positions on legislation regarding telephone carriers "locking" cell phones and state laws banning "conversion therapy," while others convinced the president to award the Medal of Freedom to Yogi Berra and to appear on Real Time with Bill Maher days before the 2016 presidential election. The report notes, however, that "it is difficult to calculate the impact of the site, as not all the inner workings of the White House are made public."