Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Public Opinion

Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs
than to confront a fool immersed in folly.
Proverbs 17:12

He also said to the crowds,
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”
Luke 12:54-57

Jesus had a low opinion of public opinion. And that was before the polls showed that 90% of those willing to express an opinion preferred Barabbas the bandit to Jesus the rabbi.

In “Newsweek,” Niall Ferguson, who previously distinguished himself with a plan to reduce the National Debt by selling National Parks (seriously, that was his plan), writes this week about how “America finally comes to its senses and faces the fiscal facts.” As evidence, he cites a Gallup Poll showing that 17% of Americans now see the deficit as the biggest problem facing the nation. This is up from just 5% six months ago and approximately zero a year ago. I have a hard time taking someone seriously who suggested selling the Grand Canyon, but I’m glad that he’s happy.

Last week I was planning to write a blog about how public opinion had shifted on gay marriage. According to the latest poll figures, it is now supported by more than half of the American people. The majorities are slim: one poll showed 51% support and another showed 53%. By contrast, just 37% supported gay marriage in 2003. It might not be the Kingdom of God, but it looked like progress to me.

My confidence in public opinion was buoyed by the news that more than 60% of registered voters would not vote for either Sarah Palin or Donald Trump.

But then I read some other poll numbers.

One poll shows that 43% of registered voters say that “most members of congress are corrupt.” Most? That seems a little harsh. Clearly, there is corruption in congress (Ensign and Rangel come to mind). But most?

Another poll shows that 38% of Americans say that President Obama was not born in the United States. That’s a little more than twice the number of those who say he is a Muslim. How is that even possible? Did the poll also ask how many think Hawaii is part of the United States?

As Bob Dylan wisely observed:

Half of the people can be part right all of the time
Some of the people can be all right part of the time
But all of the people can’t be all right all of the time

Dylan added the amusing tag line, “I think Abraham Lincoln said that.” My guess is that if we commissioned a poll, a significant number of people would say that was true.

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