Monday, June 8, 1998

Week of 06/08/1998

Polls and Poll-itics
What do you WANT the results to be?
- by David Matthews 2

I was making my way through the local mall when I was stopped by one of those clipboard-carrying idiots that have permutated most malls like cockroaches.

"Excuse me sir, I’m taking a survey of voters trends, and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer a few questions."

Usually I’m prepared for these jerks by grabbing my cell phone and pretending like I’m in the middle of a call, but this time I was distracted by a couple of beautiful women who were walking in front of me. I know I could’ve always said "no" but I get tired of saying that to every clipboard idiot I pass by. Besides, he did mention he was taking a survey of voters trends, so I figured I’d hear him out.

"Sure," I said with a shrug.

He smiled and started his questions. "Okay, first, are you a registered voter?"


"Did you vote in the last election?"

"Yes I did."

"Did you vote for any particular political party?"


"Which one?"

"The Libertarians."

He looked up from his clipboard. "Uh.. excuse me? I said did you vote for any particular.."

"I know what you asked," I told him. "And I told you I voted for the Libertarian Party."

He then flipped his pencil over and began to erase the earlier response. I saw him check the "No" box on his little form. Then he resumed his questions.

"Okay.. Now, do you think that the flag of the United States should be protected from desecration?"

"Too late," I told him. "The politicians have already desecrated it every time they pass a law that violates the Constitution."

He looked back up at me. "No.. no.. I mean should people have the right to burn the flag?"

"Yes," I told him.

He checked the "yes" box and then continued. "Do you think that children should be protected from offensive materials?"

"Define offensive," I replied.

"Sex, violence, hate speech.."

"Oh, so you mean the stuff in the Bible?"

"No!" he said as he started to get frustrated. "I mean on television and music and the Internet."

"Only if they include protecting children from the Bible as well."

I saw him mark "No" for that question.

"Do you think that children should be free to pray in schools?"

"They are already free to pray in schools," I told him. "Nothing has stopped them from praying in schools."

"Do you think that there should be a constitutional amendment allowing children to pray in schools?"

"There is already one.. it’s called the First Amendment. You remember that one, don’t you?"

I saw him mark "No" again.

It was clear I wasn’t giving him the answers he wanted to hear, but instead of putting down the answers I provided, he simply put down the zero-sum yes/no answers on his little clipboard.

"Okay, one final question.. Do you think your elected officials do a good job?"

"Only if their job is to steal money from citizens, spend it for their little pet projects, and to bastardize and deprive their constituents of the very constitutional rights they took an oath to protect and defend. If that’s how you define their job, then they’ve been exemplary."

I saw him mark "No" on that last box. I know there were other questions on that list, but he apparently didn’t want to put up with my brutally honest answers. He said his obligatory thanks for putting up with him and I went on my way.

You know, I am sick to death of polls and surveys. The need to determine a particular point of conformity has bastardized modern culture to the point that it’s next to impossible to do anything meaningful anymore.

Television stations live their lives for the next poll. TV programs can live or die based not so much on the support of a show but rather what some survey says the "average" American wants to see. Today’s networks would never be able to do a show like "All In The Family," "Star Trek," or "Hill Street Blues" because those shows started with lousy ratings, but survived because of viewer support. Just look at how CBS is treating fans of even a mainstream show like "Doctor Quinn" after so many years of support simply because of what they deem to be sagging ratings.

Politicians are the next bunch of idiots who have sold their lives to the poll-takers. I can actually remember a time when polls used to be taken only once a month, and then only for presidential elections. Now news stations like CNN and MSNBC do daily polls on what they deem to be vox populi, and like brain-dead sheep, the politicians respond accordingly.

What’s worse is that polls are so easily manipulated by the group who takes the polls and the kind of questions asked.

Look at these three questions:

"Do you feel that steps should be taken to protect children from offensive materials?"

"Do you feel that government should censor television, radio, books, and the Internet in order to protect children from materials some would deem to be offensive?"

"Do you believe that government has the right to tell adults what they should or should not see, hear, and read on the grounds that some materials may be judged by certain groups to be offensive to themselves and to children?"

Three different questions, asking the same question! The only difference is how they are each phrased. Which one do you think has the best chance of getting a "yes" answer?

Where you ask the question also has a bearing on the answer. Asking 100 people at a pub compared to asking those same people coming from a church will get completely different answers. Especially when the topic is about a more controversial issue like sex or alcohol. It also shows how people will be willing to hypocritize themselves when they’re in front of their families.

What’s worse is that polls are often used by moralists as a weapon to push for limitations on individual freedoms. When the discussion is about school prayer, the Christian Coalition will pull out some poll that says that seventy percent of Americans are on their side. When the topic is about flag burning, the veterans groups will pull out a study that says eighty percent of the populace supports deifying the American flag. These groups best demonstrate what Ralph Waldo Emerson warned of the abuses of power, that "Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors."

Individual freedom, however, should rarely be subject to vox populi. Freedom is not about conformity, but rather the ability to set oneself from the crowd. And perhaps that is something that is lost in a society of polls and an obsession with majority rule.

James Fenimore Cooper said it best when he said, "The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity, since the tastes, knowledge, and principles of the majority form the tribunal of appeal."

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