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By Michael A. Genovese, Matthew Justin Streb

A provocative exam of the use and abuse of public opinion polls.

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Polls and politics: the dilemmas of democracy

A provocative exam of the use and abuse of public opinion polls.

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Polls are more often tools of leadership than chains of slavery. We have less pandering than the public thinks, less leadership than the public needs, less political courage than democracy requires, more polls than are necessary, higher demands and expectations than a president can meet; and we grant less power than a president needs. Notes 1. Cronin, “Leadership and Democracy,” p. 36. 2. Bryce, American Commonwealth, p. 460. 3. Miroff, Icons of Democracy, p. 1. 4. , Cycles of American History, p.

The problem is that we have a Madisonian system requiring Hamiltonian energy to meet Jeffersonian ends and expectations! The system, with its separation of powers and its checks and balances, remains difficult to move. But the presidency of today—the focus of so many demands and so much attention—suggests a brand of Jeffersonian democracy where the people speak through the president. But it is not constitutionally so. This illustrates the contradiction between the presidency in the Constitution and the presidency in practice.

Nixon and his aides wanted to know not only the president’s standing in voters’ summary measures (job approval and candidate choice in trial heats) but also why the public had reached those evaluations and how they could be changed. Nixon’s persistent questions to his pollsters and staff about why the public reached its ranking and how it could be changed fundamentally concerned strategy; the connection between available information about voters and campaign strategy was quite close. Answering Nixon’s questions required extensive research and dominated most of his surveys.

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