Printer Friendly Page Issue Disagreements Need Not Stop Collaboration ~ #17

Issue Disagreements Need Not Stop Collaboration ~ #17

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
2003, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
Feb. 3, 2003

"Do you think the country is heading in the right direction or is it on the wrong track?" has been asked in over 750 surveys, by over 20 different polling organizations beginning more than 21 years ago.

You might think pollsters would routinely find out what the public believes is the right direction, and if pollsters have not yet reported those results, you might think that's because the public itself has no coherent or consistent idea of what the right direction is. You would be wrong on both counts, as shown by academic pollsters, Professors Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro, who researched those ideas a decade ago.

By meticulously examining all available poll findings on issue preferences, they found that, as generally expected, demographic groups differing by age, education, gender, ideology, party preference, income, geographical region, religion, etc., exhibit many differences, sometimes very large, on how well the U.S. is doing in handling any of hundreds of different issues. More important and less expected, they found overwhelming evidence that these various groups almost always agreed on what the right direction was when a policy proposal was being tested for support.

In their 1992 book, "The Rational Public", Page and Shapiro, acted as exemplary heroes of public-interest polling. On the first page of their preface, they explained,

"The collective policy preferences of the American public are predominantly rational, in the sense that they are real - not meaningless, random "nonattitudes"; that they are generally stable, seldom changing by large amounts and rarely fluctuating back and forth; that they form coherent and mutually consistent (not self-contradictory) patterns, involving meaningful distinctions; that these patterns make sense in terms of underlying values and available information; that, when collective policy preferences change, they almost always do so in understandable and, indeed, predictable ways, reacting in consistent fashion to international events and social and economic changes as reported in the mass media; and, finally, that opinion changes generally constitute sensible adjustments to the new conditions and new information that are communicated to the public."

Polls are beyond the means of salaried individuals. Academics have little opportunity to conduct polls and, even less, to sponsor series of polls. Their scholarly survey research becomes limited to what they can extract from the huge database of existing polls by sophisticated statistical means. The significance of the work of Page and Shapiro, although well-supported by their statistical analyses, may perhaps best be understood by the graphs they published in their book, a few of which are shown here. When support for a policy is asked repeatedly with identical wording, the various demographic groups tend to move up or down together and each group more-or-less stays in its relative place over a long period of time. Noting this common parallel relationship in response trends for different demographics, Page and Shapiro called the demographic groups "parallel publics."


Politicians and high government officials tend to believe that different demographic constituents are very different on what they want, but it suits their prejudices to disbelieve that these different "publics" agree on the right direction to go. But much more than that, politicians discount the desires of the people and ignore the amazing findings of the last fifty years of science, sociology, psychology, anthropology and other disciplines that shed light on what people legitimately need, want and are entitled to have. Only in the last five years or so has it become common knowledge that to stay in power elected officials, despite all their lip service to the contrary, support their financial backers, not the people.

Extensive public-interest polling, reinforced by the findings of Page and Shapiro, show that though the various demographic groups — even those differing greatly with one another on a selected issue — are pretty much ready to move together in the same direction. They can collaborate if they are given a chance. As I said in the title, "Issue Disagreements Need Not Stop Collaboration."



>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

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