The people's voice of reason

1. 29 Opinion Polls

It seems like every time I answer the phone these days it is a new opinion poll. The pollsters have even gotten into cell phones. I probably receive at least twelve or fifteen such calls each week. The calls are intrusive and excessive. The benefits arising from the overburden of surveys is highly questionable. The problems facing government these days are highly complex, to say the least. Most of us have our hands full simply dealing with the problems that confront us in daily life. So what is the wisdom of politicians seeking opinions from people who, prior to hearing the question, have not given any critical thought to the issue that is raised. Compiling all of the ignorance in the United States is not likely to create wisdom. The solutions to complex problems requires critical thinking.

In many instances the solutions to the problems confronting the United States will require new and imaginative creative thinking. Unfortunately, there is a well-recognized tendency amongst us human beings to reject or attempt to destroy anything that we do not understand. Thus creative solutions to problems are not likely to fare well in public opinion polls. Opinion polls are likely to appeal to the very worst in human nature, invoking prejudice and knee-jerk reactions.

I suspect that a large number of people, among them some of the most intelligent people, find the opinion polls objectionable. Therefore, they probably hang up the phone without responding. If this is the case, then certainly the practice would call into question the statistical validity of the huge number of public opinion polls conducted by telephone. The prejudices of the pollsters are likely to be reinforced by the opinionated people who are anxious to respond to the pollster’s questions.

The impression is that many of the polls are actually instigated by political candidates. If the results of the poll are not beneficial to the candidate, what is the likelihood that the results will be published? What is the likelihood that a political candidate paying for a poll during the political season simply to inform himself or herself as to how the public feels, in order to make informed political decisions? But if the results turn out to be favorable what is the likelihood that the candidate will publish the results? What is the likelihood that the publication of such polls will adversely affect the wisdom of public opinion?

All of this is not intended to suggest that the well-considered opinion of the public is unimportant. It is to suggest that the polls as conducted are not likely to elicit wise public opinion. In order to be valuable, public opinion needs to be well informed public opinion. It does not need to be opinion expressed after hard day’s work during which no thought whatsoever was given to the issues raised in the poll.

This discussion suggests important issues. First it is clear that opinion polls as presently conducted are not a desirable way to deal with the determination of public opinion. One of the underlying problems is that most members of the general public do not have enough information at their disposal to formulate decisions on many of the most important public issues. Or, stated differently, most members of the general public are not inclined to avail themselves of the information that is available on important public issues. Sports events are more entertaining than political debates. Political debates are interesting only when they project the pre-judices and engage in the demagogic rhetoric that the public enjoys. Unfortunately, the solutions to our problems are not usually found in the debates that we find entertaining.

This article is, itself, an appeal to public opinion. It is a suggestion that the public should voice its opposition to unsolicited public opinion polls. But at the same time it is a suggestion that the public needs to begin acquiring information necessary to reach informed opinions on public issues. The public needs to find ways and means to express those opinions in a meaningful fashion.

The main area in which the public needs to form sound judgment is in the selection of the politicians who will ultimately make the decisions. It is not possible for the public to participate directly in the decision making process as to the underlying issues. It is much more important to select leaders who will make wise decisions, and whose judgment can be trusted, than to nail those leaders down on specific issues.


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