Poll: Place where people go to vote.
Poll: Survey of a sample of people, the results of which are usually extrapolated to indicate the opinions or preferences of a larger population.
“Pol”: Politician, elected official.
What do these homonyms have in common?
The polling place is and always has been the center of our election process. It is supposed to represent the very essense of democracy. When voters turn out, democracy is better served.
However, our history has proven time and again that not all of our citizens turn out for every election. In particular, young voters are almost never proportionately represented in voting results. Seniors “rule” when it comes to voting. One can speculate on the cause of this disparity. One can theorize that younger voters just aren’t as “engaged” as much as senior voters. Perhaps young voters just don’t appreciate the importance of voting as much as senior voters.
I don’t accept any of the above theories as explanation of why senior voters turn out in higher numbers. The reason for this disparity is obvious: retirees have more TIME to devote to going down to a polling place to vote than younger working voters. As a result our “polling place” system of voting has, and always will, result in disproportionate representation among voters.
The senior voter also dominates the world of political polls. Political poll results are skewed toward the responses of older voters. Most recently, and increasingly, this has a lot to do with the way polls are usually conducted. Polling today is still almost exclusively conducted via telephone. Specifically, by “LANDLINE” telephone, the “old fashioned” hardwired phone in your home. Cellphones don’t count. “Voice-over-IP” phones, like Vonage or the phone service many people receive from their cable providers, don’t count. The number of U.S. households with no landline service whatsoever continues to rise significantly. Such household are not represented AT ALL in most political polling data.
Young voters suffer the most from conventional polling methods. Their views, their beliefs, and their values are basically not represented in the polls we hear about daily.
Recently Mathew Segal, of the youth advocacy group OurTime.org, wrote an Op-Ed about how polling methods disenfranchise younger voters. I hope that Matt also understands that, if our polling system under-represents the younger voter, our “polling place” system of voting does so in an even more significant way. Our voting system over-represents the senior vote, and so does the political polling system that everyone relies upon to “gauge” where the electorate stands on any given subject.
And what about the “Pols”- the politicians who we elect to supposedly represent all of our interests in government? What role do they play in our seemingly disfunctional political system?
Politicians rely on the results of political polling to define their positions on every possible issue. Politicians do not start with a position, and then conduct polls to find out who agrees or disagrees with that position. The process works the other way around. The first thing that any politician seeking election or re-election does regarding a position on an issue is conduct polling research on public opinion. The “results” of that research determine a politician’s position.
Perhaps most unfortunately, the polling of the electorate on most issues is rarely done as a sampling of the voters’ “best hopes and dreams”. Polling is geared toward finding out what the electorate most fears. Hope vs. Fear, when it comes to politics, is not usually a fair fight. Fear usually wins.
Politicians look to find out what senior voters are most afraid of, or at least most worried about, with regard to a specific issue. Fear has proven to be a much bigger motivator with senior voters than younger ones with regard to turnout in elections. So what we have is a political system that is completely geared toward manipulating the fears of senior voters. It is a race to the bottom on almost any issue.
One would think that at least senior voters themselves benefit from the system. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality the manipulation of the senior vote rarely results in better representation of senior concerns any more. Never more true than in the 2010 US Midterm elections, politicians inundate senior voters with barrages of short television attack ads that are ALWAYS designed to scare them. As soon as they were elected many officials, who won in 2010 by scaring senior voters about things like losing Medicaire benefits, attempted to slash those same benefits. Seniors in this country would be much better off if their grandchildren voted in much larger numbers. The TV attack ad is significantly more effective with senior voters than younger ones. These ads often run not in primetime, but during time slots when retirees tend to watch, such as morning and mid-day.
If you believe our political system is dyfunctional, then you must look at our voting system if you want to truly understand the causes of and possible solutions to that dysfunction.
Solutions? What solutions? Enter Online Voting.