Thursday, December 2, 2010

Survey Says

Richard Dawson hosted the original “Family Feud” in the 1970’s where one family battled another. Each family had to guess the answers based on national surveys that were done on a range of subjects. There have been a myriad of variations on the show since, but it symbolizes for me the reliance that we have on getting people’s opinions.

Today’s ubiquity of surveys and polls is thanks to the web’s technology that allows nearly any site to query the visitor on a range of subjects. Do you want it to snow today? What hair style should this person have? Do you want to ever pay a penny in taxes or would you prefer to just get a check for being you?

In retail business, tracking what the consumer wants is a vital function of continuing operations. Stocking the shelves with products that people won’t buy is a sure fire way to destroying the business and guaranteeing unemployment.

Politics has always been driven by what the people think. Every election is the ultimate poll result. Recent Presidents are particularly poll savvy…often adapting their stated policies and beliefs to better meet what the polls indicate.

The military is one part of society where you don’t expect survey’s to play much of a role. From what I understand their function is largely to take orders, not to opine. How many push-ups do you want to do today? Are you in favor of cleaning the latrine? Please choose from the following locations where you would like to be deployed…


It’s ironic, then, that the Defense Department surveyed the military on their opinions about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” This policy was implemented by President Clinton when he reversed course on his stated beliefs to respond to the poll results of the time. The results of the survey were officially released this week – 70% of the military don’t much think it’ll matter whether the policy is eliminated or not. The most interested statistic to me is that 80% of the surveys went unanswered. Nearly 500,000 were sent out and just under 100,000 were returned. It’s safe to assume that those who didn’t return the survey did so because they don’t care (and thus support the elimination of the policy). The total responses then sit at to 94% (470,000 out of 500,000 surveys). 78% of the American public support eliminating the policy. A federal judge has ruled against the policy and called for its immediate repeal. Some think the Commander in Chief could issue an order to his military putting the policy on hold while Congress and the courts figure it out. However it happens, I know that DADT will be gone at some point.
As I wait for the demise of the policy, I reflect again on its creation and implementation. I voted for President Clinton in 1992. I raised money for him and gave his campaign money. He was the first candidate for President who courted GLBT voters – he spoke authentically and passionately about fairness and the need to remove the military’s policy that allowed the random discharge of military members who identified as GLBT.
 
A firestorm erupted as President Clinton off-handedly reinforced in an early press conference his belief that the policy should change. Six months later Bill Clinton not only reversed course but signed legislation that Congress passed that codified into law the DADT policy.

It remains unfathomable to me that on a matter of basic humanity and equality that President Clinton had so eloquently championed for so long that polls could change his belief’s so radically. The result has been expensive in dollars and lives to the military and to the country. As a result of the President’s lack of honor to his word and his willingness for political expediency to trade people’s lives and livelihood based on popular opinion, I explored other political avenues and was introduced to the Libertarian Party. The LP is most easily defined as Socially Progressive and Fiscally Prudent. And yes, we have our share of nut-jobs and crazies – just as the Democrats and Republicans do.

Currently about 1% of the vote goes to Libertarian candidates. It’s interesting because when Americans are polled on various policies (social issues, taxes, size of government) 70 to 80% of the population support Libertarian policies that are detailed in the Party Platform. The party has only been able to convert a very small percentage of policy supporters to actual votes. So what did the party do about it a few months ago? They sent a survey to the members asking about new tag-lines. Bzzzr and a big red X!

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