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Public Opinion

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In today’s society, public opinion polls are used to defend and argue against almost every imaginable issue. They are used to determine who is the leading candidate in elections, if the people support those they do elect, if movies, television and other media products are any good, or at least desirable and they determine what kind of products we as consumers want to purchase, also to determine the presidential approval rating. The only problem with these polls is that they don’t always express the public’s true opinion. That is one of the many argument that Carl Cannon makes. Today more than ever the government has been relying on polls taken by the people to run the country. In Carl M. Cannon’s article called Hooked on Polls, he writes about the concerns he has for today’s government and how it runs. He believes that public opinion polls are dominating issues for our country. Which means that the government is relying on public opinion polls way too much. The number of polls used by politicians is very high, which are used to run our government, and the effects from it can be very negative.

The government that we have right now is a representative democracy where elected officials govern the people and the people do not directly vote on the issues. The elected officials decide and vote on issues and will hopefully represent the people in which he or she was elected to represent. By having the people vote on every single topic, our government would be a direct democracy. This is exactly what the Framers of the Constitution did not want. They believed that the public was not smart enough to vote on every issue. The problem that arises from this is that the people are not educated enough to take on the responsibility. The people cannot and should not vote on issues such as foreign policy, where the people may not know enough knowledge about the issue to make a good and educated decision on it. The reason our government is set up the way it is, is because that our country is can be ran by smart elected people who have good knowledge about a certain issue and will able to lead our country into success by making smart decisions.

By making decisions solely based on public opinion polls, the popular vote will be of a biases and uneducated common person. The ineffectiveness of public opinion polls were shown in 1990 when Iraqi tanks overran Kuwait and public opinion showed that American people were strongly against the idea of sending in troops. But President Bush still sent in US troops, even though the majority of the American public was against it. We can only imagine what would have happened if Bush did not send in US troops to Iraq, but a month after the ordeal, President Bush’s approval rating was a record high, also was the support of the war. Our country depends on people to represent us through difficult issues and not by majority rule from public opinion polls. By having polls run what our government does, turns our nation’s politicians into followers than leaders. This totally defeats the beliefs held by the Framer of the Constituion.

When a politician proposes an idea to the general public and the people reject or dislike the idea, the politician will then use a public opinion polls to amend the idea so that it will appeal to the public. Within a certain poll, many errors can occur. For example, the sponsor of the poll could be asking questions in a way that the person who takes the poll will answer a certain way. If an accurate poll must be taken, a question must be worded as neutral as possible to achieve the most accurate of results. Nowadays, a public poll has become a way of life. If we turn on the television, there is always a news networks conducting polls and showing us an inaccurate response. Many Scholars today, believe that polls have changed the way our government works for the bad.

The Framers of the Constitution and Cannon views are very similar. When the Constriction was being drafted, James Madison and the other Framers of the Constitution were very worried that our government would allow factions and majority parties to take over and rule. This concern was also expressed in The Federalist No. 10. They believed that a direct democracy would create majority factions that would rule over all the minorities. Madison wrote in his essay, The Federalist No. 10 that by having a large republic, than “wise people: would be elected to represent the citizens of the country. By having these “wise people” run the government they would be able to judge what is right and what is wrong and also be able to judge how certain issues should be dealt with.

This is exactly how Cannon feels in his article. He is concern that direct democracy is slowly integrating into our current system through public opinion polling. Polls should be used as one element in a politician’s decision on an issue so that he can get a sense of how the public is feeling, but now the only element. Cannon agrees with these Framers and feels that by having so many polls taking place, the government is starting to be run by the people and not the politicians. Which basically means that we are slowly turning into a direct democracy system.

Walter Lippmann wrote an article entitled, The Phantom Public, in the early 20th century. In his article he talks about the uneducated and disinterest the public has for government and governmental issuers. He also explains that the common person cannot, if he or she wanted, run the country. Basically he is saying that the common American citizen is stupid. It is ideal to have all citizens to be involved with the governmental issues, but that task is unattainable and not possible by any means. These views that Lippmann has, would agree with the views of Carl Cannon. Both authors believe that the person is unfortunately not smart enough to be responsible for the well being of our country. Lippmann says in his article, “He does not know how to direct public affairs. *ƒx* He does not know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen.” The public, according to Lippmann, is not capable of handling all the tough and critical affairs that must be decided upon every single day by our nation’s leaders.

Cannon agrees with the statement in that the government should be influenced by the people, but mainly left up to the elected officials to run the country. Lippmann continues this idea in saying that many times the public will construe up an idea or plan, and the choice is then narrowed down to just a few alternatives. It is then up to the leaders of the country to decide how the plan shall be carried out and what will become of it. The public does not learn about all the preceding events or even stay for the final outcome but rather the climax of the situation. Without hearing and learning the entire story from start to finish the public is not qualified to decide on issues regarding that matter. Our country was set up so that a few wise individuals would represent the public in government to care for us and look out for us. Lippmann believes that this is the only option we have because the public and the public’s opinions are just not enough developed and the people are not qualified enough to run our nation.

The finding of the correct “public” to poll becomes problem in determining if the public opinion expressed is actually that of the general public. A large percentage of the general population does not participate in polls and for the most part prefer not to. Hence, those who are activity involved are those who also readily participate in public debate and are stronger in their preconceived opinions and are too self-interested to be indicative of actual public sentiment. In conclusion, while public opinion polls are “public” they might not be the opinions of the public as a whole, but rather the views of different sectors of the general public.

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