Around the world politicians have fallen in love with quoting polls, making sweeping statements and utilising anecdotes in support of their positions and policies. The citing of polls and interpretation of the “will of the people” could be seen at all points (and by all sides) during the recent US debt ceiling crisis; during Britain’s austerity, News Of The World, and London riot showdowns; and whenever an Australian politician is within posturing distance of a microphone or camera. However, one must question, at a point in history where television shows (Big Brother, Idol) have shown that we possess the technology to vote for ourselves in real time. Do we require legislatures who are merely middlemen following the uninformed knee jerk reaction of the people? Or do we require legislatures who ignore these inexact measurements of the “will of the people” and lead their countries in the direction they think they must go?
Pundits and Politicians have loved polls, sweeping statements and anecdotes since their inventions. However there are serious problems with each of these representations of “public opinion”. In polls the wording of questions, time of day, location, attitude of both interviewer and subject, educational levels and the media (among many other important factors) all heavily influence the results. Sweeping statements generally rely heavily on stereotype and are influenced by ideology. Anecdotes rarely ever present a cross section of a situation, e.g. politicians who claim “all the people I meet say X” generally will not have met conflicting or neutral points of view at their political rallies, and as noted in a previous post, neutral (or Independent) voters generally control the balance of power. As all of these measurements of “public opinion” are inexact, the question is how can politicians know the real will of the people?
However even if politicians were able to identify the “will of the people”, should we elect leaders purely to follow it? Current technology allows the public to vote and make their opinions heard in real time. A secure online or voting system could undoubtedly be implemented and run for a fraction of the cost of current legislatures (no politicians, no staffs, no travel and living costs etc.). However we elect legislators precisely because they are not the average person. Legislators are required because they have the time, resources and (hopefully) the experience, intelligence and education to make decisions in our best interests. As Edmund Burke famously stated: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serves you if he sacrifices it to your opinion”. Political leaders therefore, should be the ones leading the country instead of following it.
Our political systems were never designed for mob rule. The American founders famously included undemocratic features such as the Bill of Rights, England had an unelected House of Lords, Australia has an unelected Governor General, and they all have Independent Judiciaries. The people as a whole do not have the time, resources, experience, facts or inkling to read bills and think for the future. Excerpts, sound bites and misinformation created by activist groups, interested parties and a scandal craving media are hardly the foundation of reasoned debate or intelligent choices. Furthermore the mob is a creature craving immediate satisfaction, and rarely thinks long term. One must ask oneself where the world would be today if leaders throughout history such as Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman and Lincoln had crowd sourced their opinions.
Our world therefore is in desperate need of true leaders. Our current leaders are addicted to pandering to public consensus, however current forms of measuring public opinion are not adequate. We have the resources to be able to truly enact direct democracy, however the mob is not equipped to truly run themselves at this point in time. If a politician were to stand up and ignore these false measures of public opinion and restrict the knee jerk reaction of the mob, in other words be a true leader, our world would be a better place. However politicians are more mindful of the next election. So they play to the gallery instead of doing the right thing for the country, they follow instead of lead.