EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 4, 2013

Letter: Politicians should not govern by polls

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — To the editor:

I don’t intend to make a habit of disagreeing with Dee Lewis, but regarding her letter, “Representatives are not voting the people’s will,” why simply not do away with our representative system of government all together and instead simply take polls to decide all laws and changed them whenever the pollsters determine that 50.000001 percent of the people now want something else?

Obviously that would save us oodles of taxpayer money on our representatives’ salaries and other benefits, and on buildings like the Capitol in Washington and the statehouses in Concord and Boston.

But what would we think of a politician who decided everything, or nearly everything, by taking a poll of the voters?

As well, of course, the exact wording of questions greatly skews poll results. “Do you favor laws to increase gun safety and laws to stop guns from falling into the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill?” is very different from “Do you favor laws that require that guns be locked in a strong box when they are not actually being used to prevent violent crime (or for hunting or target practice) and that require FBI-database background checks for all private sales and other transfers of firearms?”

James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers No. 10 that one of the great benefits of a large, democratic republic (as opposed to much smaller city-state democracy), and which had been previously thought unworkable, was that the federal capital could be situated in a place far enough from the people to insulate lawmakers from the passions and the shortsighted foolishness of the people. Unfortunately, modern communications, and scientific polling, have completely destroyed that salubrious insulation.

However, many brave elected representatives at all levels of government, local, state and federal, continue to believe that it’s their job to use their own judgment rather than to take a poll to find out what their constituents want them to do. Presumably our representatives know more about the issues that they face than the average voter. It’s their job, after all, to investigate issues by carefully weighing evidence and by considering the advice of experts and of lay people, including voters. As well, they also need to carefully balance or decide between different and nearly always competing interests, both public and private.

If you don’t like what your representative is doing in office, or if you don’t like the way he parts his hair or how she pronounces the word “harassment,” you can vote against him or her in the next election. But we should all stop whining about how our leaders do not always slavishly and cravenly follow what the latest polls say that the people want and instead thank them for their courage and foresight.

After all, the people want much lower taxes and many more government services, as well as free cake and ice cream, a great big raise and an hour-long nap at work, a back rub and a smile from a pretty girl, to go home and to take Dorothy’s ruby slippers with them, too.

Michael Christian