How much attention should political leaders give to opinion polls when setting public policy?

A discussion on Midmorning today focuses on the relationship between opinion polls and public policy. Today’s Question: How much attention should political leaders give to opinion polls when setting public policy?

  • Clark

    The fact that most politicians are all lying liars, they will, of course, change their direction depending on which way the wind blows.

    This is a party neutral concept. It’s never what is good long term policy for the country but how to get re-elected so they can continue to boost their ego.

  • Charlie

    It depends on the size of the poll – there is a large difference between a poll of 1000 people in the mall, vs. 500, 000 people over the phone – and the integrity of the polling company. There are particular polls that are notorious for skewing data by only approaching certain demographics and then making it appear that this data shows a general pattern. What politicians should pay more attention to is the opinion statistics they should be getting in the form of communication from their constituents. If you have an opinion on something, let your representative know about it – they are only human after all and can’t read your mind. It should also be a matter of having them use that data to make their vote, not just what their beliefs are.

  • Lou

    Polling has become very accurate over the past few years and it does accurately reflect current attitudes within the electoric. Political leaders should be aware of these polling numbers but gifted politicians would use their persuasion skills to convince their constituents that the position that they are taking on issues is the best for the state or country. This is called leadership and there is an incredible lack of it in politics these days.

  • reggie

    Unbiased, random, nonpartisan polls that show public preferences for various policies could — should — be an important guide to politicians. Say, for example, the overwhelming number of people who like the features of the 2010 health care law proposed by the president and enacted by Congress. If politicians actually paid attention to that sort of public preference, we’d have a lot less contentious Congress and a lot more citizens who believe in the integrity and effectiveness of our government.

    On the flip side, most political polling is based on fundamentally flawed questions, and is not intended to elicit an accurate measure of public opinion. Politicians’ polls are structured to provide cover for the positions they’ve already taken, or for the actions they intend to pursue on behalf of their benefactors.

  • gary

    If Lincoln had polls during the Civil War, they were few, far between, and fickle. He managed to lead the country, if not always public opinion. Herding the cats of Congress and his own administration was a constant challenge. A leader has to get out in front of the people and coax them along, but cannot get so far ahead that s/he loses them.

  • Bill

    It doesn’t matter. Most politicians are bought and paid for by the big banksters and Israeli lobby.

  • Rich

    You must be referring to finger in the wind politicians.

    That approach has demonstrated not to be working very well for us at the moment.

  • James

    Great products emerge from companies that understand the art of the possible and the latent needs of customers. Great products do not emerge directly from surveys and focus groups.

    Likewise great legislation. Yes, our leaders should know the issues that matter to us, but they should not lead by opinion poles. At least in theory, they should be better than that.

    Far too many of the issues of today are too complicated for the snapshot opinions of the general population to be relevant.

    We elect these people based on their core strenghts and beliefs, with the expectation that they have better ideas about how to run the place than we do ourselves.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Three or four decades ago, politicians were rightly criticized for pandering to uninformed popular opinion rather than standing on principle. Today we have the opposite problem. Too many of them pander to their ideological bases in defiance of the wishes of their constituents. Arne Carlson and Paul Wellstone were able to keep a good balance, but folks like that are rare in politics today.

  • Philip

    I have no opinion.

  • Larry M.

    Opinion polls are tools, but shouldn’t be the only tool in the politician’s tool box. But perhaps should hold more clout than monied special interests and donors. Ideology is another tool, but that too is a limited tool as it is an extremely blunt instrument that is incapable detail or flexibility. Any ideology that can fit on a bumper sticker is just for show, not practical at all almost never should be used. Pragmatism should be the biggest most often used tool in the tool box, as it is the tool that gets the job done.

  • Dick

    Given that most polls are so poorly done and limited in explanation and that people in general are so ill informed, I’d say very little. I would love to see a poll that provided info about “trade offs”, i.e. if you respond in a certain way, this will be the impact. Dream on!

  • Rich in Duluth

    Polls should give politicians an indication of popular issues and the mood of the people. But, true leaders should lead. This means going against popular opinion at times and persuading the people to accept it. We should be electing wise, experienced, practical people into public office, not ideologues clinging to a few core issues. This is where we, the voters, succeed or fail.

    The South, before the Civil Rights Act, is the perfect example. When politicians do the will of the majority without considering the effect on minority groups, injustice prevails. There are examples of this, today.

  • david

    It would be nice if our elected people would listen to their constituents at least as much as the lobbyist and the political propagandist. Then maybe they’ll stop the pandering to their party’s lunatic fringe and being noting but shills for the wealthy and corporations.

    Then again if the media did a better job of showing where the influence is really coming from, polls and public opinion would weigh more on the politician’s minds.

  • CarlS

    Some attention should be paid, obviously, but they should remain skeptical. The moment someone says ‘no’ in response to a request, a poll is already bias towards a certain type of person.

  • Mark G

    For the most part, I think politicians should pay attention to what the polls are saying. However, polling data can be skewed……by not polling enough people, by only polling specific people or groups, by using limited or exclusive polling methods, by asking leading (or misleading) questions……and so using polling data to shape public policy is fraught with peril. That being said, we are looking at a gay marriage vote next November, and to put such a question to the whims of the voters is, in my mind, the ultimate in abdication of legislative responsibility. For example, in the days before the Civil War, should the question of allowing slavery have been left to public opinion polling, or worse yet, to a public vote? If it had been, do you suppose slavery would have been outlawed?

  • GaryF

    “Most politicians are bought and paid for by the big banksters and Israeli lobby.”

    And government unions, and teachers unions, and the trial lawyers…….

  • GaryF

    Sure, but they also should mix that with their core beliefs and vote.

    If the majority of people don’t like your decisions, then they will vote you out. And then, they should be subject to term limits.

  • John P II

    Political leaders mainly concerned about re-election should pay close attention to public opinion polls. A deeper problem is that public opinion is so easily manipulated.

  • Owen

    I can’t decide whether to agree with reggie at 6:53 or Philip at 8:09.

  • Bear

    “Most politicians are bought and paid for by the big banksters and Israeli lobby.” And Gary makes a key point: unions

    Dayton is paying the price for selling his soul to SEIU and AFSCME to get elected. Now they are calling in the favor. He is forced to front a ridiculous proposal to unionize daycare providers – independent sole proprietors with one FTE. A measure opposed by the majority of daycare providers, but who have no say or vote. Only a minority (4,600) of the state’s daycare providers can vote on unionization yet this will impact all 11,000 providers. This is democracy?

    It is curious that posters who love to inject “plutocracy” into every thread never see the devil in their own back yard. Yes Dorothy we aren’t in Kansas anymore, unions are part of the disproportionally concentrated political power structure. And measures like this proposal need to be called out for just what they are: power grabs, a salient characteristic of plutocrats. If it acts like a duck, sounds like a duck, it’s a duck.

  • Rich

    It is astounding that three years into the presidency, our leader has yet to develop an economic plan while ignoring the polls! The Polls wanted job improvement but he spent the first three years playing golf and letting SEIU leaders to set up the stimulus plan. Polls are not always paid attention to and look what America has today…one step closer to socialist Europe.

  • James 5:1

    1 Come now, ye Rich,

    weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you.

    2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.

    3 Your gold and your silver are rusted; and their rust shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh as fire. Ye have laid up your treasure in the last days.

    4 Behold, the hire of the laborers who mowed your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth out: and the cries of them that reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

    5 Ye have lived delicately on the earth, and taken your pleasure; ye have nourished your hearts in a day of slaughter.

    6 Ye have condemned, ye have killed the righteous [one]; he doth not resist you.

  • Rich

    Polls should alert politicians to act. They ignored the occupy Wall Street nonsense while hurting state economies to cover this garbage mess of a mob. Barry oba held a beer summit with a cop and his professor friend for his friend being arrested but ignores the serious issues.

    For example. Two popular social movements in 2011—flash mobs and occupiers—placed a great strain on cities and their LE agencies. Flash mobs were initially seen as harmless entertainment, while Occupy was seen as justified protest.

    It wasn’t long before both movements were infiltrated and hijacked by troublemakers bent on violence. Street thugs turned many flash mobs into violent, rampaging, criminal mobs. Anarchists turning many occupy protests into violent confrontations and clashed with police.

    The estimated cost for policing occupiers across the U.S. has been estimated at $13 million, the Associated Press reported, to pay overtime costs for around-the-clock policing. In Oakland alone, the cost has already approached $2 million, which the severely cash-strapped city of Oakland can ill afford. Oakland Police resources are thread thin, following two occupier riots, a homicide, and the dismantling of the City Hall encampment at least three times.

    The Oakland Police Department’s force, which has fallen to less than 700 officers, is stretched almost to the breaking point. The department has been repeatedly forced to request mutual-aid support from outside agencies.

    Occupiers have spread to University of California campuses in Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Cruz.. Occupy protesters from Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz descended on a Bank of America branch in downtown San Francisco. They succeeded in shutting down the branch, as well as an entire high-rise office building.

    After numerous requests to leave were refused, SFPD arrested 95 protesters. Rowdy occupy supporters threw bottles at police.

    America hasn’t seen this level of mob lawlessness since the 1960s. Polls show no support for this radical fringe and that is why the Dems have gone silent now on their previous support. Maybe polls do work :)

    Sop where is the poll to see Eric Holder removed along with sending Barney Frank and Chris Dodd to jail for their deliberate manipulation of Fannie Mae, responsible for causing this great recession?????

  • Steve the Cynic

    Politicians should listen to popular opinion carefully enough to see how much of it is ridiculous, based on twisted logic and distorted “facts,” and realize the need for public schools to do a better job of teaching critical thinking skills. Unfortunately they won’t do that, because they benefit from having voters be gullible enough to fall for it when they twist logic and distort facts. (Barney Frank and Chris Dodd caused the Great Recession? Give me a break!)

  • This is NOT lucy

    “America hasn’t seen this level of mob lawlessness since the 1960s. Polls show no support for this radical fringe and that is why the Dems have gone silent now on their previous support. Maybe polls do work :)

    Sop where is the poll to see Eric Holder removed along with sending Barney Frank and Chris Dodd to jail for their deliberate manipulation of Fannie Mae, responsible for causing this great recession?????”

    “Unfortunately they won’t do that, because they benefit from having voters be gullible enough to fall for it when they twist logic and distort facts. (Barney Frank and Chris Dodd caused the Great Recession? Give me a break!)”

    It appears that something needs to be done about those who feel that they are above the law and can steel money while we see them stealing money and do nothing about it. The Occupy people see these ‘supposed untouchables’ and feel if they are allowed to break the law and not experience any consequences then why jshould they?

    It might be the growing idea that if some can blatantly break the law and harm millions then why should anyone respect the law?

    I don’t know how polls are going to throw the banksters in the hooskow, but they certainly need to be recognized for their actions.