Saturday, December 22, 2012

Poll Driven Politics

One of the most frustrating things about the 24 hour news cycle are the plethora of opinion polls on every conceivable topic. These polls are often unscientific or even when conducted scientifically are full of bias because of the way the questions were asked. The opinion of the pollster is almost always born out in the results.

Few of us would disagree with questions like, "Do you want young children to have health care?" or "Do you believe that people who have worked their entire life and contributed to social security should have their benefits cut?" But obviously the best and most sustainable approaches to problems like these are open to debate.

The timing of polls is very important too. Its very unfair to conduct a poll immediately after the shooting in Connecticut and ask, "Knowing that an assault weapon was used in this massacre, would you be in favor of more restrictions limiting access to these military-style weapons?" This is an incredibly loaded and biased question and most people, without a more thoughtful consideration of the topic, would answer yes. The question could have been, "Would you be favor banning violent video games?" or "Would you be in favor of placing a police officer in every school?" or even "Would you be in favor of allowing teachers to have concealed weapons, provided the passed a training course?" and the answers would have been perhaps even more overwhelming.

But Media use unfair polling like this to influence the masses according to their agenda. They use them to set the debate and agenda and lead people to share the purported conclusion of the masses. One fundamental question is, Does it matter what polls say, even if they were accurate? Should politicians listen to polls? Most forget that the United States is not a democracy, it is a representative democracy. This is a huge difference. There is simply too much complex information that must be assessed to even have an opinion about most of the decisions our legislators are supposed to make. It is supposed to be their jobs to learn this information and make a decision that is best for the future of the country. But instead, they respond to polls and practice populist politics in effort to get re-elected.

This attitude drives the election cycle pandering that keeps kicking the bucket down the road. Politicians promise an unsustainable promise today to people to buy their votes and that wins in the polls. But because it is unsustainable in the long term, then someone else will have to figure out how to pay for it in future generations. We see this happening now with the debates over the fiscal cliff. No one really wants to talk about the unsustainable entitlement programs that are bankrupting our country, either now or in a few years.

The polls make politicians not care about principle but only about reelection. We need leaders who speak about principle, not public opinion. Many forget that the majority of people living in the Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War were against opposing the British. But a few patriots thought that our civil rights were more important than the comfort to which they had become accustomed.

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