Friday, January 06, 2012

Adrenaline Fixes Trump Popular Will

At least at the local level, one of the great ironies of a representative democracy is that, once elected, officials seem to pay much more attention to anecdotal opinions and how angrily they are expressed than they do popular opinion.

I'd definitely be among the vaunted 1% if I had a dollar for every time I've heard a public official apathetically dismiss an issue because they claim no one had been calling them late at night to complain about it.  Partly to blame is a vicious feedback loop. Fewer and fewer people vote so local officials interpret that as a mandate to only listen to a small, vocal share of the population which leads the population, in general, to continue to ignore elections.

Sometimes a member of the governing boards of community organizations, watching the example set by elected officials, might dismiss scientific generalizable survey results by saying “that's fine but I know one or two people who are still dissatisfied,”  implying that somehow the opinions of one or two people should trump the vast majority.

It is an overstatement to say that the federal electoral college system was established because a few of the framers thought that voters would not know enough about issues to make informed decisions at the ballot box. In reality, that now antiquated and unpopular system is yet another remnant of the compromises demanded by slaveholding states fearful that they would lose influence if elections were based truly on the popular vote.

But officials today, who listen to only small groups of vehement people as a means to determine the importance of an issue, are in essence distrusting that the popular will can be truly informed.  It is probably also for the same reason that officials are often distrustful or dismissive of scientific, generalizable public opinion surveys.

As a result, issues devolve into cheap adrenaline fixes, not only taking much longer than needed to deal with, but making those who are charged with dealing them even more vulnerable to powerful special interests.  Officials are tied down with little-picture tactical decisions that suck valuable oxygen away from the strategic decisions that are the essence of governance, while also distracting public administrators from day-to-day operations.

But what do I know, I'm just a voter.

No comments: