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County Hall Corner: Poll Me Out

One refreshing thing that comes out of the Lycoming County Commissioners Meetings is that Scott Metzger, Tony Mussare, and Rick Mirabito have a mind of their own and follow their own convictions. Yes, they listen to their constituency — quite well, actually — but they are not controlled by them. Unfortunately, the normal pattern is that the higher up an official goes on the political food chain results in more decisions based on the public pulse.

It is a very rare article on politics these days that does not somehow refer to the percentage of Americans that think a particular way based on opinion polls. Just for fun, I researched what Americans fear right now. A scientific study polling 2,083 US adults about their fears conducted by showed that the number one fear of adult American citizens was the death of a loved one. On the other hand, a YouGov poll of exactly 1,000 Americans (with a 3.4 percent margin of error) tells us that the number one fear of American adults is snakes (30 percent), followed by heights (28 percent), spiders (24 percent), and public speaking (23 percent).

I intended to check some other polls on this subject, but these two had already made my point. Fear of a loved one dying on the YouGov poll does not even hit the two percent threshold of the NPR poll. I am shocked, shocked that polls differ. Yet, ironically, the one thing they all have in common is how much they emphasize their accuracy!

Yet despite this, politicians will continue to use polling to help them to see which way the political winds are blowing. The danger of this is that as opinion polling becomes more and more the weathervane of our political leaders, the further we are away from the foundation of our republic.

Here is the problem. The American people have forgotten (or wish to ignore) that our country was NOT established as a democracy but as a republic. A democracy is where the majority rules — a republic rules based on its foundational documents, which are our Constitution and its Amendments. The Constitution provides the principal governmental framework, and the Amendments provide broader parameters of freedom and equality. It is as a republic that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It is this foundation that has helped us maintain the same government structure for two and a half centuries.

Do not take this for granted. Our country has had the longest-standing government of any other country in the world, dating back to 1789. Outside of Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the Vatican — every other country in the entire world has changed its government since 1900. This stability is what has brought prosperity and progress in every area of our society, from industry to education to human rights and the quality of life.

What our dear representatives in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., should recognize is that the parameters of their influence are not what people are asking for but what our republic allows. A classic example is the Electoral College for selecting our country’s president. This very unique process for determining our president was created by our Founding Fathers for a very good reason. Since this is the UNITED States of America, they wanted the person who would be representing the country to be the choice of the greater number of states and not just the population.

This forces presidential candidates to not simply focus on large cities to get a majority of votes but to get out to the less traveled areas that also have concerns that need to be heard. It is a tremendously innovative process that has served us well for two and a half centuries. Yet, we have seen in the past decade many howls of pain from those who win the majority vote without the electoral vote count. Their constant cry is that this is not fair because it is not democratic. And I agree that it is not democratic, but that is just the point — it was not meant to be — it is a basic tool of our Republic.

There are zillions of other illustrations, but the crux of the issue is the same. Governing by the flavor of the month is fickle, and even Time magazine ran an article several months ago with the title, “Are Polls Trash?” This ‘science’ reminds me of a Shakespeare quote. Opinion polls are “but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”