(Transcript) Prime: Vote - Don’t Hang Up! Why Voters Should Respond to Pollsters, with Henry E. Brady

Don’t Hang Up! Why Voters Should Respond to Pollsters
Henry E. Brady
Dean, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley
Co-Author, The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy
May 2012

OK, it’s a nuisance to answer that pollster who calls your phone or asks for your participation on the Internet. And, it doesn’t matter anyway, does it?

It DOES matter. If you are rich or have a lobbyist in Washington, then you can afford NOT to answer a poll. Otherwise, polls are one of the few ways that the average American can get heard in the political process. Don’t hang up!

(Transcript continues below video.)

In our new book, my co-authors and I document how those with the highest income and education in America give the most money and have the most access to politicians.

Consider this: the top one-fifth of Americans in terms of education and income give 70% of all the dollars that people donate to politics. Everybody else—the remaining eight out of every ten people—give only 30%. Not surprisingly, politicians hear a lot more from the well-heeled and highly educated than from the average person.

And this: More than half of the lobbyists on Capitol Hill are hired by business groups while fewer than five percent of the lobbyists represent workers – the blue and white-collar workers of this country who make up the vast middle class.

In short, the average American has neither the money nor the access of the rich and the well-educated. So how do average Americans make themselves heard?

One answer is to respond to pollsters. When George Gallup helped invent modern public opinion polling in the 1930s, he wrote that it could take the “Pulse of Democracy.” Polling was a method that would weigh the opinions of the farmer in Nebraska, the worker in Detroit, the poor person in Mississippi, and new citizens in Chicago just as much as those of the bankers in New York, the Brahmins in Boston, the oil-barons in Texas, and the movie moguls in Hollywood. But for this to work, two things had to happen.

First, polling had to be truly representative. Second, it had to get the ear of decision-makers.

Good polls ARE representative – as long as you answer the phone or respond on the Internet! Reputable pollsters make sure that they get a cross-section of Americans, and they write questions that are truly fair and balanced. There is a science to this, and there is a code of ethics for pollsters to make sure that the science pans out.

Before answering a poll (and before believing poll results), you should ask whether it is a “scientific and representative poll,” not just a “convenience sample.” Convenience samples are easy, but they are not representative. They’re limited to a certain group, such as those viewing a particular television program or those most interested in a topic. Scientific polls work hard to make sure that every type of person has an equal chance of being interviewed so they are representative of all perspectives.

Good polls DO get the attention of decision-makers. When members of Congress hear that Social Security, tax cuts, Medicare, or jobs bills are popular, they listen. Political science research shows that changes in public opinion have an impact on politicians and policy-makers. Polls matter!

Politicians consider the opinions of everyone because they might vote, but they are especially focused on those who are likely to vote. So there is one more thing you should do: You should vote! Voting provides the enforcement mechanism that ensures that people’s opinions are translated into political action. Your views count more when politicians think you will act on them.

Polls and votes provide a way for the average person to influence a political system that is overrun with money and lobbyists. Answering polls and voting are not the entire answer – we also have to find more ways to limit money in politics and to control the legions of lobbyists in Washington...but they are a start. So next time you pick up the phone and are greeted by a pollster, answer the questions! Don’t hang up!

I’m Henry Brady.
Sign up for UCTV's monthly e-newsletter:
contact info



where to watch

videos & podcasts

live stream


more info
about uctv


program contributors

university of california



©2016 Regents of the University of California. All right reserved. Terms and Conditions of Use.