Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Pulse of Democracy

After all the negativity that we've discussed lately, it was nice to read Gallup and Rae's "A Powerful, Bold and Unmeasureable Party?" who had an optimistic view on public opinion polls and the importance of bridging the gap between the government and the people. Although today, polls might have a negative connotation, Gallup and Rae had many points of why they were solution to a better political life.

The article quotes Abraham Lincoln saying, "With public opinion on its side, everything succeeds. With public opinion against it, nothing succeeds." I fully agree with this statement and believe for America to succeed in the 1940's when the people's voice was beginning to be heard and if a dictator wanted to be successful, he had to listen. 

Gallup and Rae argue that in years prior the right to vote, to simply choose one party or the other, is not true democracy. "Democracy is more than a legal right which the citizen exercises on a certain day of the year when he enters a tiny polling booth... It is a process of constant thought and action on the part of the citizen. It is self-educational." In order to create the type of democracy Gallup and Rae want to achieve, all free citizens must learn what's happening in their society, voice their opinion/support and in return if they have been heard, make an education decision when voting in the future. 

Not to open a can of worms or bring battle in the next class, but I believe this can be applied to present day elections. How many of the 126 million voters in the last presidential election actually knew what each candidate's platform was and who supported what legislative issues? I agree that it's important for everyone to cast a vote, but I think we can do a better job as Gallup and Rae would have liked us to in taking responsibility to educate ourselves and stay involved the three years in between an election year.

Agreeing that public opinion is no longer a small group of exclusive minority of educated persons but now millions of people spread across 50 states, here's a crazy idea: What would happen if each voter had to answer a few questions right before their vote could be counted?  Simple questions like, "who's the vice president canidate for the party you're voting for?", "What are the president's views on this topic?", "How many electoral votes does a president need to win office?" Would doing this cause the people to learn more about our political system and what's going on or would this cause less people to show up to the polls? 

Finding channels of self-expression for the ordinary people is key in keeping a democracy going. In a later article Needed Research in Communication it also agrees that "Democracy, after all, cannot survive without two-way communication." It's an ongoing challenge that we must remember is a great problem to have in this country. As Gallup and Rae supported, mass communication has enabled this challenge and it's our responsibility today to continue to close the gap between the government and the people because after all, "Public opinion, in this sense, is the pulse of democracy."

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