WHAT AMERICANS REALLY THINK: And Why Our Politicians Pay No Attention by Barry Sussman

WHAT AMERICANS REALLY THINK: And Why Our Politicians Pay No Attention

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A cynical look at how politicians manage to avoid using the real lowdown from their pollsters; by Washington Post special pollster Sussman, who recently headed UPI. Sussman states early on that a stamp should be prepared for newspaper editors to be used by politicians handing out information or speeches: ""FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION ONLY, NOT TO BE BELIEVED."" This sets the tone of his peek behind the polls. The author shows, using Ford's pardon of Nixon as an example, how a politician can totally disregard public opinion and, in fact, will even attempt to make the public believe that it really thinks other than it does. He goes on to demonstrate how polls can mislead in order to bolster a particular opinion (which brings his subtitle into question--why should politicians pay attention to stacked polls?). For example, the order in which a question is asked can often dictate its response. The author attempts to cut through the apparent political apathy reflected in low voter turnouts, and finds that Americans might not know much about politics and government, but they know what they like--which he presents as a ""citizens'"" agenda: no more Vietnams; a strong military defense, but a reduction in nuclear weaponry; no tampering with Social Security or Medicare; a fair chance for the poor to join the mainstream; a reduction in crime and drug abuse, no matter the cost; a restoration of clean air and water; and fairness and equity in government and taxation. Aside from these general statements, the rest of Sussman's book is an exercise in political voyeurism, with occasional curious tidbits thrown in to whet the appetite (89% of Americans in 1987 stated a willingness to elect a Jewish president; 32% of white Americans in 1984 had a black person over for dinner). Despite an alluring title and some intriguing insights, a book that never quite finds its focus.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1988
Publisher: Pantheon