Happy Saturday, subscribers! I hope some of you are enjoying the nice weather now that spring is apparently here to stay (at least here in northern Virginia).
There are a couple of links I want to share from the last week. It is a happy circumstance that all have to do with the value of public opinion polling, especially in polarized times.
In fact the first link, from Gallup, is essentially titled as such. Frank Newport writes in “Polling in an Era of Political Polarization” that polls help steer the government when legislators are otherwise pressured to follow the democratic whims of their ever-dividing constituencies. There is a lot of good data in this article, covering factors from the impacts of decreasing participation in primary elections, especially to Congress; to decreasing competition in House races; to low approval ratings for the government as a whole.
There are some things that Newport doesn’t mention that also buttress polling’s case. One is the increasing bias of the Senate as a whole. As urban-rural polarization rises, the gap between what people and what states want also grows. The popular-vote-weighted policy agenda is different from the Senate-vote-weighted agenda. Polls let us observe that difference, thereby enabling newspapers, political organizations and advocacy networks to push politicians to correct large imbalances in what people want and what they are getting: such as on gun control, health care, and child care. The bias of the Electoral College makes polls important to demanding certain policies from presidents, too.
Polls also help us assess mismatches between what the news media are emphasizing and what then people are actually thinking. Writing for NPR this week, Anya Kamenetz covers new polling that shows most parents are satisfied with the material their childrens’ schools are teaching them. 76% of respondents agreed with the statement that "my child's school does a good job keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics,” for instance. And on issues of gender and sex — a particular focus of right-wing commentators and media outlets recently — only 18% said their school was teaching things out of step with their family’s values. That is different than the narrative from right-leaning news networks and politicians. Kamenetz quotes a researcher who says “It's definitely an incredibly small minority that's being amplified with this large, well-funded infrastructure to appear larger and to appear to have more well-founded concerns than they do.”
And the last link is another Gallup story about personal finances. I’ve written before on this subject for this newsletter, but poorer and lower-middle-class Americans have few avenues for political expression and influence beyond public opinion polling. Being able to segment the public by income or net worth provides valuable insight into how the worst-off among us are handling hard circumstances. Polls tell us what the people want politicians to do to help them.
That’s it for this week. Tomorrow’s newsletter will be about how far Democrats and Republicans have (or have not) drifted to the left and the right.