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Taking America’s Temperature
OVER THE PAST HALF-CENTURY, POLLING HAS REMADE THE ELECTORAL PROCESS. IS IT HELPING DO THE WORK OF DEMOCRACY MORE EFFECTIVELY—OR ERODING IT?
November 2000 | Volume 51, Issue 7
In fact, the historian Gil Troy, in an intriguing history of candidacies titled See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate, rejects Burdick’s view of “slavish adherence” to the pollsters as a threat to democracy. On the contrary, he says that almost universal primaries and wide television exposure give the people more input and more exposure to the candidates than they have ever before enjoyed. The posturing and playacting of the White House seekers have their roots in our own uncertainty as to whether we want the President to be an aloof model of republican integrity or a commoner recognizably like us. Other commentators, too, reject the notion that we “buy” our Presidents from the slickest packagers.
But defenders of the current system can’t dodge the brutal paradox: If we are indeed more democratic than we were, why is it that fewer and fewer of us vote? Could nonstop polling be part of the reason? Winston Churchill once wrote that “nothing is more dangerous than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll, always taking one’s temperature….”
For myself, I vote “undecided.”