Re: AltInst: Better democracy through Internet opinion polls?

From: <>
Date: Mon Dec 14 1998 - 17:49:43 PST

This assumes that better democracy accords with what most people actually
think (or would think about an issue assuming they were informed). But most
people are not informed, so their input is may be detrimental to the
democratic outcome.

When I know nothing about an issue, I leave that box blank rather than bias
the result by chance. A democracy works best when more weight is given to
informed and considerate choice. There is some inherent sociological bias in
this, resulting in a conservative influence, but the solution to this is
really a better method of motivating and educating those less likely to vote.

Another problem is that preferences are not exogenous or fixed but are the
product of a political debate, which can be either an active or a passive
pursuit. Trying to measure attitudes based on socio-demographic considerations
introduces all sorts of ad hoc assumptions that mitigate against political
argument, i.e., against changing anyone's mind. Ideally, a democracy should
see a result that can be influenced by actual debate. Polling adjustments
based on demographics would weaken this dynamic element in the democratic

You need to consider more than just preferences, but how the process of
argumentation and expression, through actual elections, changes thinking and

If you get into ultra polling as an objective, you need to define what you
mean by a well functioning democracy a little more clearly. Some once thought
that property restrictions were imperative for a well functioning democracy,
as it would give more preference to responsible citizens. Once you get away
from the one standard everyone is forced to agree with, counting who bothers
to show up, you open up a nice can of worms.

 I think it would give even more power to those who rule through the
manipulation of demographics in their political message and style. This is not
to my liking. I prefer ways to enhance the effect of reasoned debate and
getting people to actually think, or at least to be actively informed.

If your objective is to provide better information to politicians and policy
makers as to electorate "preferences," then this fits in with the prevailing
paradigm, the status quo. Unfortunately, the use to which this information is
put is not to act according to popular "preference" but rather to better frame
political argumentation for election purposes, to stay in power.

It is a far nobler idea to better inform the electorate electronically as to
what exactly their elected officials are really up to, what their true
proclivities are. This is not so easy, however, as it is too easy to lie and
to make it appear as if it is the truth. All it takes is money. Meaningful
objective information is thus still hard to come by.

Tom Lacey, Ph.D.
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Received on Tue Dec 15 02:17:55 1998

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