Replace opinion polls with problem-solving

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - There's an old debate among political scientists and historians about whether those who represent us are supposed to reflect precisely what we believe, want and value or make judgments that are in our best interests.

The "delegate" model speaks to the former and the "trustee" model speaks to the latter.


This distinction is also used to separate the roles of representatives and senators. Representatives are to more accurately reflect the pulse of the people, while senators are to take a wider, more long-term point of view.

This debate is also related to a debate about polling.


People in politics use polls the way flu sufferers use Kleenex. For polling data tell you what your constituents, or your potential constituents, believe, want and value.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Betty Friedan and John F. Kennedy did not use polling data in any serious way in the 1960s. Dr. King and Ms. Friedan were leaders of consciousness-raising movements in which citizens were not consciously aware of their wants and values and needed leaders to help them become aware of their beliefs, wants and values.

And JFK, his speechwriter Theodore Sorenson is fond of saying, only used polling data to determine where people currently stood. In that way, he knew what he had to do in order to sway those who were not where he was.

Future Democratic candidates for governor need to throw away their polls. They need to start figuring out how to articulate the frustration, the ambivalence and the value conflicts many Marylanders have but cannot articulate.

The place to start is the ongoing moral crisis in the family.

We need a future governor who will help the public understand that the only way to resolve our cultural, economic and value conflicts over the family is to support all families regardless of whether the mother is a working mother or a stay-at-home mother.

Working mothers who want to be at home with their infants the first year of the infants' lives need the support of everyone to make this possible. Mothers who do not work and who decide with their husbands that raising children is their top priority should not be stigmatized.

The ethical and emotional support that mothers of both stripes need must be backed up economically: Working mothers need money to take time off from work, if only for three or six months, and stay-at-home mothers need tax credits so they can afford to care for their children without a second paycheck.


Moreover, working mothers, and working fathers, need more help with defraying the huge expenses for adequate day care.

Polling data will not tell you that this is what Maryland liberals and moderates want and value because Maryland liberals and moderates are not sure what they want and value.

The difference between progressives today and progressives in the 1960s is that it was easier to raise awareness among those who were being wronged then because there was a clear solution to most of the problems. It was clear that blacks should not be stopped from voting or sitting in the front of buses and that women should not be kept out of the workplace. As in the Cold War, we had clear distinctions.

Today, Democratic leaders have a more difficult challenge because there is no clear concept to fight for.

The next Democrat who runs for Maryland governor would do well to start listening to the public today so that when he or she starts campaigning we will have an educational, transformational campaign and not just a sound-bite campaign.

And if the likely Democratic candidates for governor are not up to the task, then we can look to a future candidate for the U.S. Senate to do what is necessary.


One of the front-runners for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination could also seize the initiative and start the national dialogue we so sorely need.

But sooner or later, someone is going to have throw away the polls.

David M. Anderson, founder of the online Maryland Internet Politics Week, is an associate research professor of politics at George Washington University and a contributor to Progressive Politics in the Global Age (Blackwell Press, 2001).