From Wishes to Hard Choices
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If public opinion is to guide our politics meaningfully, messages must be accurate and applicable. As the blind must lead the blind, the disconcerted must not direct the confused into the wilderness. Critical is the distinction between accurately measuring respondent views and extracting messages providing sage counsel. Although the former has been the object of immense scholarly attention, the latter has barely been noticed. The two concepts routinely diverge under ordinary circumstances. For example, a poll may solicit opinion on what the government should do next on education. Every respondent may answer absolutely accurately in a way satisfying the technical perfectionist. Yet, this avalanche of passionate outpourings will undoubtedly be useless to officials seeking public guidance. This erstwhile “mandate” will surely be an amalgam of idiosyncratic views, fantasies, misunderstandings, and garble mixed in with a bit of realism. Paradoxically, individual accuracy is superb; civic usefulness is near zero.
KeywordsPublic Good Public Opinion Contingent Valuation Method Poll Question Hard Choice
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