There are many reasons that polling is going haywire and getting more difficult. Response rates have plummeted. Landlines are disappearing. We’re getting fed up with surveys to the point where many would side with Hannibal Lecter in his confrontation with that census taker.
Obviously, polls won’t disappear, even if they’re becoming less reliable. But would it really be so terrible if they did vanish? Modern polling began in the 1930s. But democracy is a good bit older. Before polls, politicians still managed to figure out what their constituents wanted. How? By talking to them. They also talked to local officials, prominent citizens, and journalists. The horror!
This is hardly the first time that changes in the technological landscape have changed the political landscape. Political conventions were once raucous, dramatic events where party leaders from across the country hammered out their differences face to face. As political analyst Michael Barone has noted, one of the main reasons the conventions turned into staid, boring infomercials was the advent of the telephone. The first direct-dial long-distance call was between the mayor of Englewood, N.J., and the mayor of Alameda, Calif., in 1951…
You can argue that following the polls is democratic, but it’s a cheap and shallow form of democracy. We are also a republic, and in republics, leaders are expected to do what they think is right, not just popular. Toppling the tyranny of polls would put arguments back at the center of politics. And that’s as it should be.