Printer Friendly Page The Collective Ingenuity of Ordinary People ~ #48

The Collective Ingenuity of Ordinary People ~ #48

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
© 2005, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
April 4, 2005

When official functions of two government agencies partially overlap, both Congress and the administration typically go back and forth over which agency should handle a situation that could be handled by either one.  The tough call occurs when neither agency wants to take charge of the situation, or when both want to.  Although disputes are occasionally resolved, many inevitably unravel.  Government officials fall back into dispute mode.  Then one agency may get the job previously given to the other.  A reorganization of one or both agencies may occur or a third agency is called in, and the game starts again.

How refreshing it is to find that ordinary people, when collectively asked, can establish rules for which agency gets the job in all situations.  Here is how it was done in one poll series.  After responding to,

"When faced with future problems involving aggression, who should take the lead the United Stations or the United Nations?"

A follow-up question was asked, "If the United Nations refused to take the lead and a dictator was pursuing aggression against another country, what should the United States do: take the lead, wait for other nations to act, or stay out of it?"  The responses are shown in Table 1 ranked by the preference of the public. 

The rank order did not vary over the years, but support for either intervention by the United Nations (Policy 1) or by the United States (Policy 2) both dropped proportionally.  The desire to intervene in 1991, stimulated by the recent success of the first Gulf War, was at a peak, compared to four years later.

In the most recent survey, ATI #28, the overwhelming preference is for policy 1, ("The United Nations should take the lead"), not quite the consensus it was four years earlier, but still a substantial majority.  Those who say policy 3, ("The United States should take the lead"), are still clearly a minority. 

The important point is this.  Majorities say the United Nations should take the lead. If the United Nations doesn't take the lead, then majorities say the United States should.  The choices of a clear majority did not change in the two times these questions were asked four years apart.  No flip-flopping by the people.

ATI Surveys #28
Four Policies      
  1. The UN should take the lead.
69% 80% 85%
  1. The U.S. should take the lead, either immediately or if the UN fails to act.
54% 62% not asked
  1. The U.S. should take the lead.
28% 17% 11%
  1. The UN should take the lead and the U.S. stay out of it, if the UN does not act.
20% 13% not asked

Table 1. Who Should Take the Lead
Against Aggression, the UN or the U.S.?

And here is the icing on the cake.  In ATI #28, the sample was split on this question-set and instead of "Who should take the lead?" a half-sample was asked "Who should be the policeman to the world?" The "policeman-to-the-world phrase was tested, in part because it had crept into discussions and was increasingly used as shorthand in public forums. With the new phrase, the margin siding with the United Nations grew to 76% (up from 69%) and with the United States dropped to 19% (down from 28%).

The public made an entirely sensible distinction.  Being "policeman" implies much more responsibility than simply "taking the lead." The overwhelming majority of Americans who would personally have to do the hard and dangerous work the job implies, by four-to-one say, "Let the United Nations handle it." The people donít worry about the United Nations dropping the ball. That is taken care of by the U.S. back-up position in both cases.  

Pretty cool. I wish the elitists in the government could do as well.

>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

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