Bright Thoughts

Reviewing responses to the public opinion chapter in the excellent little book The American Anomaly: U.S. Politics and Government in Comparative Perspective (highly recommended), I found the following question from a student:

How different would debates be without polls? Would they try harder to sway people since they don’t know what the public thinks?

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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2 Responses to Bright Thoughts

  1. Dr X says:

    Even more than campaign polls, I think focus groups have exerted a strong effect on debates, testing prepared words and phrases. Although straw polls have been around since the 19th century (?), I think it’s only in the last 25-30 years that successful candidates can seem almost completely under the spell of their marketing gurus. Though maybe I just didn’t appreciate their influence when I was younger.

  2. James Hanley says:

    Good point. Why should candidates work harder to persuade their audiences when it’s easier to set up a focus group to find out what that audience wants to hear?

    There’s a fundamental paradox at the heart of democracy–it requires that politicians be accountable to the public, which they can’t be if they don’t know what the public wants, but it also requires that they be not too tightly constrained by the public’s passing whims and harmful false beliefs.

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