Is it public will if there’s low turnout?

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Is it public will if there’s low turnout?


Not only poet Kim Ji-ha but also Emperor Yao of China knew that satisfying the public appetite is the key to politics. If the people are well fed, it’s good governance. But even the legendary Chinese ruler agonized over the difference between the lunar year and the calendar year.

Finally, the problem was solved by inserting a leap month in the lunar calendar, which had 354 days, so that the calendar followed the calculation that a year had 366 days. It is believed to be one of the greatest achievements of Emperor Yao. Later, an error was found in that calendar, and Emperor Wu of Han adjusted the lunar calendar by adding seven leap months in 19 years.

The solar calendar is not free from error, either. The Julian calendar, which adds a leap year every four years, and the Gregorian calendar, which made the adjustment of canceling three leap years over 400 years by making them into regular years of 365 days, are not perfect. The length of a year is 365.2422 days in the solar year, while it is 365.2564 days in the sidereal year. Therefore, it is necessary to make adjustments in the calendar.

Galileo Galilei, who said that the earth revolves around the sun, discovered the margin of error. He realized that the true value is symmetrically distributed on both sides of an approximate value. And so he invented a pendulum watch, which was more precise than a spiral spring watch, and discovered the margin of error while studying astronomy.

Nowadays, the margin of error is the topic of conversation in politics. People talk about polling with a plus or minus 3.4-percent margin of error. As the survey is conducted by taking samples, errors can occur. The approval rating announced by a pollster is an approximate value, and the true value exists somewhere within the margin of error. Therefore, the expression “a neck-and-neck race within a margin of error” means that the approval rating is almost meaningless. Nevertheless, the candidates become agitated over the results.

There is also an error between the minds of the voters who cast their ballots and public sentiment. If turnout is low, the “margin of error” - so to speak - grows bigger. Although the winner is decided by the election, it is not clear whether the result reflects the will of the people if turnout is low. The margin of error should be minimized. To do that, the sample size should be increased - and that means more active participation by voters.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park Jong-kwon
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