Chapter 1: Elites vs. the People – The 2004 Election
By Alan F. Kay, PhD
© 2004, (fair use with attribution and copy to author)
June 7, 2004
Today we see elites with wealth and power dictating the course of government for their own benefit. The rest of us are getting a small, and falling, share of benefits. Even these often prove to benefit elites more than the people.
The purpose of the book is to present a viable and previously little-known way to make this country work well for everybody, not just for the well-heeled elites. This starts with spotting the spin elites put on information, now more visible every day. We can then demand honest, high-quality, public-interest polling that can reveal the public’s true interest – which is very different from the elites’ spinning.
At stake is nothing less than improving our job opportunities; our environmental, health care, and educational systems; our approaches to national defense and security; and ensuring a government that truly serves the people.
Who are the elites?
At the top are a few thousand people:
- A handful of powerful politicians and elected officials in Washington and in state governments.
- Multi-millionaire investors and heads of very large corporations.
- The moguls of the mainstream media, approximately the six largest media conglomerates.
At a second level are many of the top lawyers, experts, accountants, pundits, campaign advisors, technicians, engineers and many others who benefit mightily from catering to the wealth and power of the top elites. The people are the rest of us – more than 90 percent of the population of the United States.
It’s a World-Wide Problem
The disconnect between elites and the people is a worldwide phenomenon. Most heads-of-state claim that majorities of their people approve of their policies and actions. Even dictators seek to legitimate their power based on similar claims. Opponents also claim that the people are with them. Who is right, leaders in power or opposition? Often, it turns out, neither. Large majorities of the general population worldwide have views different from leaders both in and out of power. This leads to enormous disconnects between the leaders and the led that are not alleviated as regime follows regime – even in democracies.
For example, polls conducted by GlobeScan, a U.K. company (formerly Environics, Toronto), in 20 countries around the world over the last five years have shown repeatedly that people everywhere want better education, health care and environmental protection. Yet governments spend more on militaries, and large projects of dubious value to ordinary people but financially rewarding to elites and special interests.
The Role of Public Interest Polling
There is only one practical way to find out what people want for governance: careful, high quality, scientific, random sample polling. Today in 60 countries there are pollsters who are capable of conducting such polls with remarkable accuracy. Why are their findings not better known?
One reason is that many polls are never made public – for example, those that leaders frequently commission to find out what to say to solidify their support. Secondly, a properly conducted, careful poll is labor-intensive and, with 500 to 1,500 interviews required, too expensive for most purposes. Thirdly, polling is a competitive industry and commercial pollsters in all countries reflect the biases of their sponsors just to stay in business.
Furthermore, the mainstream news media — press, TV and radio — reflect the biases of their owners, their advertisers, and the political leaders in the countries where they distribute or broadcast. This upstages findings from even the highest quality, most authoritative, non-commercial polls that show the disconnect between leaders and publics. This is especially true in the West, particularly in the United States with its commercial “sound bite” news coverage.
The situation is not entirely hopeless. Sometimes commercial pollsters do high quality polls in the public interest. A few non-profit pollsters do so too – unfortunately with generally limited access to mass media. Public-interest polling often comes up with remarkably different results than those of the commercial firms such as Roper, Harris, Yankelovich, and, best known around the world, Gallup.
Political Fund Raising
One U.S. development that has become increasingly clear to all in the last decade or two is that candidates for national and large state offices must raise prodigious amounts of money for their election and re-election campaigns from wealthy financial backers, who openly expect to be rewarded by legislation and regulations favorable to themselves in amounts much larger than what they shell out for election campaigns.
If, as it appears, a quarter of a billion dollars is now the cost of winning a presidential election, all financial backers as a group will easily get returns from the new president’s administration in the range of $2 billion to $20 billion worth of benefits: reduced taxes; low cost loans; juicy government contracts; approvals of lucrative mergers and acquisitions; and even perks like overnights in the Lincoln bedroom of the White House. Most sponsors of lobbying and large campaign contributors look at their contributions as investments that can pay off 10 to 1, 100 to 1, and even more.
The Crisis of the 2004 Election
The rewards to those who wink at, or quietly pay for, corruption of the election process to assure that their guy or their party wins are so large that it is only realistic to expect much more massive fraud in future elections than we have ever seen before. This is especially true for 2004, when large numbers of votes can be voided, miscounted, uncounted, disappeared, or transformed by software quietly embedded in touch-screen voting machines. Many of these machines to be used in the 2004 cannot, or do not, provide a written record of the ballot cast — something that is essential if a recount is required. If no recount can be justified, then the existence of a paper trail is of no use, except to prove, long after the election is over, that justice was miscarried, as happened in Florida 2000.
Florida 2000 might look like a small-scale dress rehearsal in hindsight. In 2004, there will be dozens of different types of voting machines that will have to be programmed or set up just before election with data: candidate names, offices, instructions, etc., almost unique to each of the 200,000 precinct voting places because the voting for local offices, too, takes place on election-day. About two weeks is all the time available for programming or setting up the 2 million voting machines necessary for a nationwide vote in one day. To find and prevent the small amount of fraud in a few key states that is needed to swing a close election is more difficult than finding a needle in a giant haystack covering the entire country. The oversight to do this all on election-day does not exist. National, election-day voting and vote-counting is a unique activity unlike any other computerized or partially computerized process the United States has ever dealt with.
There are ways to overcome all of this eventually. See for example http://www.alanfkay.com/National%20Elections.htm. But all of the problems mentioned above cannot be solved by November 2004. The election of 2004 is the hump we have to get over to re-secure democracy.
Political Spinning Leads to Lying and the End of Democracy
Spin is melded into politicians’ appearances, speeches, and remarks; more spin is added by advisors and handlers; and further spin comes from the mainstream media. The revenue of TV, radio, newspapers and magazines comes largely from advertising that is designed to maximize product sales and focus attention on the positive aspects of the product, the brand, or the company that is paying the freight. Fair, balancing views of the product/service are excluded from commercials and print ads. The results are unfair and unbalanced ads that ubiquitously lie by omission. Enough spinning by candidates, advisors, and media finally becomes nothing less than lying. Lying by omission works surprisingly well for politicians with the cooperation of the mainstream media. By the time the country catches up with a lie shrouded in secrecy, officials have gotten the benefits they seek from running the government, and so far, seem to pay little or no price for degrading the voice of the people, and corrupting the democratic process. If the electorate does not know the pertinent facts, the people cannot make wise decisions on election-day.
It is no exaggeration to say that democracy hangs by a thread.
Resolving the Crisis
Learning to spot the spin in political polling helps us understand what high quality public-interest polling can do to make you, and ultimately all people, understand the consensus of the public’s view of issues. The elites would prefer that the public not know the public’s true views. When in power, they keep secret anything that shows the weakness of their policies and the poverty of their choices. Spotting the spin is the first step in reclaiming true democracy.
If you are ready to learn how easily you can spot the spin in political polls, read on.