Following the Will of the People ... Sometimes

Politicians only use public opinion as cover.

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When the Founding Fathers sought to form a country for the people and by the people, one of the central components was to establish a representative government – to create a legislative body that reflected the will and values of the masses.

In today's technologically advanced, media-frenzied world, tweets, "likes", emails, texts and sound bites have become the voice of the people. Politicians are left to sift through massive amounts of data points to determine the will and desire of their constituents.

In addition, public opinion polls are conducted on an almost constant basis that seek to demonstrate and frame the public debate in ways that elected officials can fine-tune and adjust their strategy and approach to better anticipate the public's demand.

So it's always curious to see whether a politician chooses to reflect the poll's findings or whether they act counter to its conclusions.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Of late, public polls have suggested that the American people are war fatigued and that they increasingly fear that military action in Syria would engage the United States in another messy, prolonged conflict in the Middle East. Further, there is a serious concern that involvement in Syria would increase the terrorist threat to Americans. According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center and USA Today, 63 percent of Americans oppose U.S. air strikes in Syria, a 15-point shift against the involvement in just the last week.

As a result, this overwhelming opposition to the strikes – echoed in town hall meetings, negative phone calls and emails to congressional offices – has shaped the points of view for a majority of House members who pledged their opposition and sought defeat of a proposed resolution for force in Syria.

Kristina Miller, author of Constituency Representation in Congress noted that, "it's commonplace for politicians to cite opinion among their constituents. When there's a vote that's particularly difficult or consequential, it provides them some cover – 'I was doing what my people wanted me to do.'"

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

But, when presented with polling that shows overwhelming support for expanded background checks for gun purchases (86 percent support), apparently public opinion becomes less compelling and even dismissed, as House Republicans refuse to debate or take action on any bill addressing this issue. 

Similarly, 64 percent of Americans support the immigration reform act passed by the U.S. Senate, but stalled in the House. "The public supports the immigration bill 2-1 and shows unusual agreement given the divisions in the country on many other issues," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "It seems the only group divided on this issue is Congress." But, efforts for comprehensive immigration reform legislation have been stymied by the GOP in the House and left for another day.

According to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, Republican primary voters pose the greatest threat to a GOP incumbent, with 35 percent of those polled saying they would be less inclined to support their re-election if they support a military strike in Syria.    

One has to wonder if, when a politician puts their finger in the wind, is he or she really looking to find the pulse of the people, or just convenient political cover? Do our elected officials really care about the will of the people, or are they most interested  in casting "safe" votes (or avoiding them altogether), so as to not threaten reelection?

  • Read Brian Walsh:The Senate Conservative Fund and the Heritage Foundation Profit From Attacking Republicans
  • Read Brad Bannon: Russia Saves Obama From Syria So He Can Fight at Home
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