Poll addiction and democracy and.. democracy
June 22, 2010
When politicians make decisions based on polls not only are they avoiding thinking for themselves, they are abdicating their responsibility as our elected representatives.
Do people think that if the majority in a poll believe X then X is the correct action? Our elected officials seem confused and appear to believe that their only responsibility is to vote according to the polls. That may be the correct approach to maintaining one’s elected office but it is not the basis of a republic form of government. We need to elect leaders not poll readers.
A civics refresher:
At times it appears to me that political discussions I hear are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our form and type of government. The confusion may stem from the fact that the word democracy has two distinctly different meanings that are not interchangeable. Democracy can mean a form of government as well as a type of government. As a type of government a democracy means free and open election of our representatives.
Contrast this meaning to democracy as a form of government where it essentially means majority rules. Our constitution guarantees the former but certainly not the later. This is no accident. The founding fathers recognized that a pure democracy would be tantamount to mob rule. Recognizing this as an undesirable end point they drafted the constitution to be the framework for a representative form of government vis a vis, a republic. A republic form of government is based on electing representatives who bear responsibility for reflecting the views of their constituents but are not bound by them. The gap between the two is what protects the minority from being oppressed by the majority. The gap is also what allows our elected officials to be leaders and do what they consider to be in the best interests of the body of the whole even if it does not appear to represent the interests of the majority. This is what has historically allowed the Untied States to pass legislation that makes us the sentinel of freedom throughout the world. The United States is not a “majority rule” country but sometimes I get the impression that this is not a universally understood nor accepted reality.
The republic form of government in the United States has served us well and our future depends on its continuation but it is under an insidious attack. Our thirst for data (not information), fueled by increasingly efficient technology has led to the proliferation of poll derived data. To the discredit of many elected officials, their view seems to be that the poll data should dictate their position on a topic rather than using that data to help form their own opinion. One only need to listen to politicians that cite polling numbers as justification for their position. Certainly that is easy, requiring little thought or leadership but it is not the attitude that made America great. The more politicians are driven by polls the less relevant they become and the closer we inch toward democracy (as a form of government) and mob rule. In the end, the best reason for a politician to track polls is not to provide the best legislation and governance but to help ensure their re-election where democracy as a type of government is majority rule.
We need to elect leaders not poll readers.