Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Popularity, Polls, and Government

The results of the Mayors unofficial petition drive are in and are being discussed in the media. As has been pointed out by just about everyone, this was not a scientific poll. The results are useful communications between the governing bodies and citizens. They don't necessarily reflect how the majority of citizens feel, or even how people that would vote on the issue. I don't think this issue should be decided by the number of people for and against it today.

One of the most important parts of the Mayors petition results are the comments submitted with the petitions. Reading through them gives a very real indication of how facts and information are not getting out or are at least poorly understood. There were many comments where people thought the city government was behind this project. There was misunderstanding of where prisoners would be released. There were misunderstandings about almost every phase of this project by those for and against. This is to be expected. It's hard to dig into issues of any size and complexity when you actually have a life.

Our government is by elected representatives for a good reason. Ideally, these elected officials should be people capable of studying and analyzing issues and making tough decisions that are the best for the community. Granted, much of the time elections are little more than popularity contests but at least the elected officials can devote significant time and energy to issues (when not on golfing trips to Scotland.) Many of the founders of our republic were well educated in history. They had seen the cases where direct democracies had ended up bankrupting whole societies. They were aware that democracy can degenerate into two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner.

In the end, we need our elected officials to make decisions that are best for the community long term, even if they are not very popular. They will have to justify the tough choices, but that's what they are there for. In governing by popularity, someone always ends up getting eaten.

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