[GLOBAL EYE]Why pols live by poll, die by poll

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[GLOBAL EYE]Why pols live by poll, die by poll

"Polling is merely an instrument for gauging public opinion. When a president or any other leader pays attention to poll results, he is, in effect, paying attention to the views of the people. Any other interpretation is nonsense," said George H. Gallup, the originator of the famous Gallup poll.

Public opinion, Mr. Gallup said, is different from the transient public interest or a majority opinion. Public opinion is built up through the process of social discussion on a certain issue. There are so many "no responses" and the poll results differ from company to company.

The primitive form of a public opinion survey is the straw poll. The phrase comes from a parable in which people make a decision by tossing straws into the air and watching where they land. Roh-phoon refers to the popularity of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party's presidential candidate, Roh Moo-hyun. Military-phoon refers to the alleged draft-dodging by the son of the Grand National Party's presidential candidate, Lee Hoi-chang, and Chung-phoon refers to the popularity of the independent presidential candidate, Chung Mong-joon.

The camp of each presidential candidate sticks frantically to the survey results and do not hesitate to do anything if it increases their candidate's support rate. No wonder the presidential candidates become slaves of their polling numbers, since surveys have rightly predicted election results.

The migratory politicians fly to the party whose support rate climbs and fold their wings back as if they had never tried to fly when the party's support rate falls.

This kind of politics, which regards support rate as the most important thing, is very harmful to this country. First, the vicious circle of populism and mobocracy is the most damaging. Politicians seek everything in the polls and become absorbed in the election campaign only to seize power. They lay aside political vision and development of policy and thread their ways through the crowds in the markets. They are not leaders; they are followers of public opinion and popularity.

The second thing is that the horse races for polling numbers and their analysis in a self-interest-centered way causes politicians to stick to the status quo. The more the political situation is under strong regional sentiment, the more the politicians dwell on opinion polls. Even though a politician may be unknown, if he is included in a survey of public opinion, he can enjoy some quantity of support without making any kind of statement on national policies. If a survey company were to poll to determine the popularity of "nobody" over and over again, nobody would become more and more popular in the surveys.

If people are affected by regional sentiment, they will find difficulty selecting their presidential candidate. The low voter turnout in recent years could be the voters' silent rebellion against being deprived of the freedom of choice. It is a problem beyond the science of surveys of public opinion, including the survey method and technique.

Gallup failed only once to correctly guess the result of a presidential election in the United States. In 1948, Harry S. Truman was elected as 33d president of the United States. Truman, from Missouri, could not attend college because of poverty and was rejected by West Point, the United States Military Academy, due to near-sightedness. When he succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as the President of the United States, the New York Times deplored the situation, saying that the candidate who had no experience, knowledge and reputation finally won.

But such a man made many important decisions, like dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, sending U.S. troops to participate in the Korean War and the dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur. Even Winston Churchill confessed that he misunderstood the man after knowing him four years.

It is no exaggeration to say that we have to verify the presidential candidates' morality, character and judgement before lining up with polls.


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Byun Sang-keun

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