36% of Americans think they could do a better job than current government

A poll previously mentioned on this blog found that in January 2010 45% of the U.S. public said that a group of people selected at random from the phone book would do a better job addressing the nation’s problems than the current Congress. Some doubt that such a finding indicates that many Americans would view a proposal to allot Congress favorably. Instead, they suggest that the positive responses are merely equivalent to exclaiming that “a monkey could do better than that lot”.

A February 2010 poll by CNN put the matter a little closer to home, asking: “Do you think you personally could do a better job running the country than our government officials are presently doing?”. 36% of respondents answered positively.

The obvious conclusion is that 9% of the public think that a monkey would do a better job than they would.

Other interesting findings from the same poll: over 80% of the public think each of the following describes “officials in Washington”: “Heavily influenced by special interests”, “Mainly concerned about getting reelected”, and “Out of touch with the average person”. Only 22% think the officials are “Honest”.

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22 Responses

  1. What were the arithmetic steps that led you to that “obvious conclusion” and what is it’s significance? I know we share 99% our DNA with other primates but are you surprised that 91% of the population thought they could do a better job than a monkey?

    On a more serious note it’s very easy to amass evidence for critical perspectives on social institutions — all you have to do is spend the evening in the pub. However, as we have found on this forum, it’s much harder to garner support for radical proposals to improve them. This is probably why 64% of the respondents to the CNN poll doubted whether they could do a better job than government officials. Once you have subtracted from the remaining 36% those who are effectively replying “a monkey/my granny/mother-in-law could do better than that bunch of shysters” this shows that we have a very steep mountain to climb in order to convince our fellow citizens that sortition is a practical solution to our political malaise.

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  2. ALL “polls,” “surveys,” et al — “ours” as well as “theirs,” seemingly private as well as public “elections” — are pure, non-scientific hokkum useful for propaganda objectives only and in pursuit of that which is THE root of ALL evil.

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  3. Richard,

    As I see things, opinion polling is a tool. Like any other tool, polling can be used in constructive and destructive ways. I don’t think dismissing polling out of hand makes any more sense than uncritically believing that polls are an objective reflection of public opinion.

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  4. This weekend marked the 140th anniversary of the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune and the White Terror that followed. Why is there no article on democratic lessons to be learned?

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  5. Jacob,

    No article was published because no one has written one, or at least no one has offered to post such an article here. Please feel free to amend this state of affairs – better late than never.

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  6. There is a general truth in this that should be obvious to anyone who opens their eyes and looks at the daily news, their falling wages in proportion to rising rents and mortgage interest payments over time.

    Governments in most civilised countries are being slowly but surely corrupted by vested interests as time goes on on the people’s power to produce increases. The power of these shadow governments is secured by democratic general elections, where officials representing them, not the electorate are elected. How else can the will of the people let it happen? It is the choice of the people. But do they know it? No! We are naively flattered by the idea of democratic elections being fairer than the ill-discussed alternatives.

    See here for more ideas:

    “A representative government may become a dictatorship without formally changing its constitution or abandoning popular elections. Forms are nothing when substance has gone. And the forms of popular government are those from which the substance of freedom may go most easily. For there despotism advances in the name of the people. Once that single source of power is secured, everything is secured. An aristocracy of wealth will never struggle while it can bribe a tyrant. ”

    How Modern Civilization May Decline, Progress and
    Poverty, Henry George.

    http://www.henrygeorge.org/pchp42.htm

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  7. > A representative government may become a dictatorship without formally changing its constitution or abandoning popular elections.

    This seems to indicate a belief in some long gone golden age of representativity. I have never seen any evidence to support this belief.

    > Forms are nothing when substance has gone.

    Forms are supposed to be tools to create and preserve the substance. If the forms do not do that, then they need to be changed. Did George ever offer an alternative to elections?

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  8. Re polls, surveys, etc.: dismissing them all “out-of-hand” is exactly what I do with all “tools” which are, “out-of-hand,” not “tools” at all but, rather, effective WEAPONS whether in the hand of friend or foe alike. But look Yoram, you’re right if said polling is limited to intimate and inconsequencial tasks like choosing up sides for a softball game or deciding where the group ought to dine tonight. Speaking for “the majority” when that WHOLE body has not been fairly informed, much less even consulted, is a gigantic confidence game that hinges entirely on who owns the dominate Spreading Instruments of said “results,” i.e., who owns Propaganda Central USA, (It ain’t WordPress.com, is it?)

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  9. Richard,

    Your points about polling a propagandized, misinformed public are valid and have to be accounted for in any analysis of polling results. But, again, I don’t think this means that public opinion surveys are meaningless and should be ignored – they are meaningful within a framework of understanding that takes into account the context of the survey.

    For example, attempting to infer from the results above – as Keith does – that the public has a deep seated opposition to democracy (i.e., lottery based popular rule) is silly because it ignores exactly those effects that you mentioned – the constant stream of propaganda that works to reinforce the existing oligarchical system. On the other hand, the fact that about 40% of the population are ready to ditch the system despite the propaganda drumbeat is a meaningful (and important) finding.

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  10. I assume by “progaganda” you are referring primarily to the media. In the UK the media is the prime source of cynicism over politicians and this is as true of the broadsheets as the tabloids — it was the Daily Telegraph that was largely responsible for heaping a huge mountain of odure on all politicians on account of the parliamentary expenses crisis. The propaganda drumbeat is beating to a different tune.

    I never claimed that the public had a deep-seated opposition to democracy, merely the weaker case that the case for sortition has yet to be made and that one should not over-interpret survey results.

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  11. Yoram

    “Did George ever offer an alternative to elections?”

    No, he was all for democracy. But he did propose that legalised robbery as the primary social organisation was abolished.

    And that this would end the larger part of corruption.

    And then that people would tend to vote with integrity rather than to sell their vote to the highest bidder or buy the government.

    Its diff to take these pieces in isolation. The book needs reading. You may not agree with it. But its worth having a think about it.

    Apologies I do not understand your first Q. Can you rephrase please?

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  12. Keith

    I did a lot of research into the Telegraphs exposure of the MP expenses scandal.

    What they missed, which was critical, was that the activity was all perfectly legal. The MP’s were speculating in land values, under the rules, using tax payers money, to gain an increase on average of about UK£500k over 5 years.

    Private property in land is the primary social organisation across the civilised world. They were doing what was allowed. It was not corrupt. Look around and you will see everyone does this or aspires to do it.

    Nonetheless, this social institution is certainly immoral under natural law and therefore completely unsustainable. So it should be abolished under the law.

    That is only ever going to be possible if we can elect a government, somehow, that has the integrity and wisdom.

    That is why I’m so interested in the alternatives under dialogue here. Very important indeed. We should not try to obscure them.

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  13. Yes. My point was only that the notion that the media are part of a propaganda conspiracy to protect politicians is certainly not true in the UK.

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  14. > In the UK the media is the prime source of cynicism over politicians and this is as true of the broadsheets as the tabloids.

    Fostering cynicism about politicians is not only fully compatible with reinforcing the political system, the two activities are complementary parts of the same strategy. It is in the interest of the media owners to weaken the politicians, making them more easily controllable. But, of course, this only makes sense if those same politicians are the ones holding official power – otherwise controlling them is serves no purpose.

    A good analogy may be the way an employer runs his factory: the employees are dispensable and need to be controlled; it is only the factory that is of value.

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  15. Robin,

    > “Did George ever offer an alternative to elections?”
    > No, he was all for democracy.

    The ancients taught us that elections and democracy are mutually contradictory. If he was all for democracy, he should have come up with an alternative. Of course, the only real alternative ever offered (as far as I know) is sortition.

    > And that this would end the larger part of corruption.

    Government corruption is about the cornering of political power, not about private land ownership.

    > And then that people would tend to vote with integrity rather than to sell their vote to the highest bidder or buy the government.

    This argument, I think, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem with elections. The problem is not that people do not vote with integrity. It is that the system is inherently such that it serves the interests of the few rather than those of the many.

    > Apologies I do not understand your first Q. Can you rephrase please?

    George was talking about a representative government becoming a dictatorship. But this assumes that there is a representative government to begin with. Since no eklogocratic (elections-based) government is representative, this assumption is historically invalid.

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  16. “A good analogy may be the way an employer runs his factory: the employees are dispensable and need to be controlled; it is only the factory that is of value.”

    I own and run a printing factory and can assure you that you are quite mistaken. Whether or not that analysis of political economy was true in 1867, nowadays employers view their staff as their principal capital. If that is the case in the manufacturing sector, then it’s even more so in the service economy. It’s ill-advised to use nineteenth-century dogma as a tool to analyse twenty-first century society.

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  17. Spare me your progressivist fairy tales. I have my own personal experience stories. If you want to have a good grasp of reality, going beyond childish anecdotes and looking at the macroeconomic data is quite useful.

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  18. Huh?

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  19. Exactly.

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  20. […] (Surveys show that public opinion now firmly adheres to the position of the critics regarding the matter of representativity.) […]

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  21. […] who people feel controls government and benefits from its policies. The answers were in line with previous findings. CBS News Poll. May 20-23, 2011. N=1,020 adults […]

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  22. >”nowadays employers view their staff as their principal capital”

    So Microsoft is getting rid of 18000 of them in order to be less capitalistic.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyclay/2014/07/20/microsoft-layoffs-also-impact-thousands-of-contractors/

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