Opinion polling has a place in American life and American politics.
As recently as 10 or 20 years ago political opinion polling was a test bed for ideas – much the same as the focus group in a traditional product marketing setting. The focus group was used to inform a representative slice of Americans about a specific issue, candidate or candidates and then to solicit reaction to the candidate(s) or to explore voter attitudes toward specific policy issues. The purpose, as recently as 2004, was to “brainstorm” – to illuminate positions that might later be useful to the candidate(s).
Manipulating the Poll
But polling has lost much of its value in the last decade from overuse and misuse. When a pollster calls or snail or e-mails a voter at random (LOL) – the questions are so narrowly worded they leave no room for yes, but or it depends and other qualifiers. The poll sponsor does not want your opinion they want you to agree with their opinion. The polling firm has already written the press release before the first phone call was made!
The most unreliable form of opinion polling – the push poll in the left hand corner of the online version of your favorite newspaper – asks the reader to agree/disagree with a statement “of the day” or a timely event or a bill being debated in Congress. Push polls are intended to solicit the angry, the outraged, the aggrieved – there is nothing random or unpredictable about them.
Politics is More Marketing than Moxey
The widespread adoption of technology that enables campaigns to micro-target voters has changed the purpose of polling from soliciting opinion to reinforcing it. Polling is part of a troubling trend toward indoctrinating voters rather than informing them – a barometer of the effectiveness of propaganda. Candidates, today, are marketed just as much Coke or Pepsi.
Think back to the 2008 campaign. The chorus of yes we can against a backdrop of white columns – broadcast in 30 second bursts. It made everyone feel good, didn’t it? Just as the Anheuser Busch Clydesdale horse bonding with a Golden Labrador puppy made us feel good in a 2014 Super Bowl commercial.
Representative democracy flourishes when there is an informed electorate engaged in a real dialogue with their representatives – at all levels of government. Unfortunately, our representatives have become more interested in placating us than in leading us.
They poll-test their positions to be sure voters will buy them rather than risk their political future by actually leading us. Leadership requires risking voter backlash by advocating real solutions to real problems that will consume 21st century America if not addressed urgently.
Sometimes leaders lose elections but based on a knowledgeable analysis of daily CNN polling, I’d urge our political leaders to bet on the American voter. Voters, in almost all cases, would respond with enthusiasm to candidates who are willing to actively engage them by offering real solutions – not just platitudes – to address our most vexing problems.
In the America I imagine, voters will respond to someone who makes it very clear that this current generation cannot leave this America as a legacy to our children.
If you agree with me share this blog with your elected representatives or any candidates you may consider supporting in the 2014 election seasons.
Photo Credit: Real Clear Politics