I was just reading about Ohio Governor Bob Taft’s dismally low approval rating of 15%, and saw yet another of these kinds of bad poll quotes that just drive me bonkers. This time, we hear from Taft spokesman Mark Rickel saying, “The governor doesn’t govern by polls. He governs by good public policy and making a difference for Ohioans.”
Now, who the hell does Rickel think he’s kidding? First off, this is exactly what they all say when they poll badly. If a spokesman had nothing better to say than “Yep, we’re really in the crapper”, you wouldn’t hire a spokesman. You’d hire a dancing cat to distract the crowd while you skipped out of town.
And more importantly, there isn’t a helleva lot of governing Taft can do with this kind of poll, even if he wanted to. At 15%, his best policy is a name change and possibly plastic surgery. The people aren’t telling him to do things differently. They’re telling him that it’s time to start dusting off his resume and begin looking for something in the private sector…in a different state.
But there’s something even bigger here that mystifies me. This is a representative democracy, right? Politicians are hired to represent the interests of the public, right? So what in god’s name is so wrong with them doing what we want them to? Why is it considered wrong or weak to give the people what they want? And what else is a poll, but a quickie, non-binding election which provides politicians with a snapshot of what the people want? So what the hell’s the problem with following polls?
I know, I know. We’re supposedly hiring leaders, not followers. But that’s bullcrap. Because we’re not hiring leaders. Not anyone who’s supposed to lead us, anyway. We hire legislator-types to write laws that represent our interests. And we hire executive-types, like presidents, governors, and mayors to execute those laws and to lead the government necessary to take those actions. But they’re not our leaders. They’re our employees. We hire them, and we fire them. And a poll is feedback from the boss, telling their employee what they think of his or her job.
Imagine what would happen if your boss gave you seriously negative feedback and you blew him off with an “I don’t do my job to get good feedback from you. I do what’s best for the company.” You might be a good employee, but you sure as hell won’t be one for long.
Giving a Shit
And I know that in practice things aren’t quite like this. But is that the problem with polls? Or is that the problem with our politicians and our political system? Whereby politicians can proudly state that they don’t give a shit what we think, and completely dismiss our opinions. As if election day is our one shot at giving our opinion, and that we’re completely at their mercy the rest of the time.
And sure, there are times when a politician shouldn’t follow the opinion of the majority. There are times when it really is necessary to stand up against the will of the people. But that shouldn’t be considered the norm. That should be considered extraordinary. That should require extra explanation; not the quickie dismissal of the public’s feedback, as political spokesmen everywhere give. That’s great for the politico with crappy polls, but really helps bury the representative aspect of our great democracy.
And one last thing to note is that everything I just wrote isn’t quite the case. Because people just have this weird idea of polls (which is probably tied to their general misunderstanding of statistics). They just don’t seem to accept them as anything more than some vague indicator of public sentiment. And so when politicians state that they don’t give a shit about polls, people don’t seem to take this as meaning that the politicians don’t give a shit about them. In fact, it’s obvious that many people consider it to be some kind of tough-guy turn-on; which is why these spokesmen always look so smug when they get to repeat this garbage.
But after all this, it can’t be forgotten that spokesmen don’t make these kinds of statements unless they have to. This is just a pre-programmed reply that a computer would make, were we to trust them to be our spokesmen (anyone who’s seen the Terminator movies knows exactly why that would be a huge mistake).
And it’s just standard that polls are always dismissed when they’re bad, and always heavily touted when they’re good. But still, we shouldn’t let them get away with this crap. Polls are important no matter how our politicians fair in them. It’s bad enough to allow them to say any bullshit they want, but it’s even worse when they inadvertently undermine our form of democracy in the process. And all because they’re so bad at it. Perhaps the reason why politicians who dismiss polls generally rate so poorly in them is because they dismiss polls.