by | Oct 11, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Here’s the problem with polls: They come to you.

Here’s the problem with voting: You go to it.

And in that small difference lies the reason why our politicians — particularly the Republicans — seem to behave as if we don’t exist.

Let’s face it. You can’t pick up a newspaper or watch the evening news these days without seeing polls that show Americans are happy with President Clinton’s job performance. Doesn’t matter what happens. Doesn’t matter what weirdo story leaks out. The number is always around 63 percent. Sometimes it jumps up; sometimes it drops a point or two. But pretty much, it stays there.

Sixty-three percent. That’s a landslide number. You carry 63 percent in an election, you haven’t just beaten your opponent — you’ve blown him up.

Same goes for the impeachment question — or the “I” word, as they’re calling it now. How many Americans don’t want to see Clinton impeached? A huge majority. In the latest Time/CNN poll, more than 80 percent. Eighty percent! What politician would mess with that number?

Meanwhile, the polls are not kind to the Republicans’ way of doing things. An increasing majority of people — 60 percent at last peek — say they disapprove of how the GOP is handling this whole deal.

And as late as last week, the overwhelming majority of Americans did not want impeachment hearings to begin.

So let’s see. You have a majority of people who don’t like the Republicans’ approach, a bigger majority that likes what the president is doing, and a huge majority that does not want him impeached.

And our politicians are charging ahead with impeachment hearings.


Because polls and votes are not the same thing.

It’s all about politics

Trust me, the one thing you don’t have to worry about in this sordid affair is politicians forgetting about politics. This whole thing is political. Impeachment, by its nature, is political. Not a legal issue. Not a courtroom drama. Politics. And if the politicians really believed the polls, they would not do what they’re doing.

But the sad fact is, people who answer poll questions don’t go out and vote. And votes are what politicians care about.

Let’s be honest. If someone calls you or stops you with a clipboard and asks about Clinton, asks about impeachment, asks about Republicans — you’d give them an answer, right? You know what you think.

But how many of us know how our congressman voted on this thing? How many of us know how our senators feel about it? How many of us even know who our congressman or senators are?

And — a much bigger question — how many of us will bother to find out that information and go to the voting booths next month?

You may think you will. You may say you will. But if more than four out of 10 people reading this column say yes, somebody’s lying.

Because in a midterm election, America will be lucky to see 40 percent of its citizens show up to vote.

Forty percent.

That’s the number politicians notice.

We’re too lazy to vote

Now, why is this? Simple. We’re a lazy culture. We’re a cynical culture. We don’t mind if someone calls and asks our opinion. Heck, that’s easy. We’ll give you our opinion. We’ll tell you how we feel, what we hate, what we like.

As long as you come to us. But ask us to get up on a Tuesday, drive to a voting center, wait in line and make a choice — forget it. That’s too much. We have jobs to get to. We have kids to pick up. We have TV shows to watch. And besides — as many Americans say — what difference will it make? They’re all the same.

So you have this enormous disparity between what we think and what we do. And although our elected officials should — if they take their jobs seriously — care about all the people they govern, each and every one of us, the ones they most concern themselves with, are the ones who bother to pull the levers.

And Republicans believe the ones who will do that next month are the ones who want Clinton out.

Now, time will tell. If the Democrats do better than expected in this election, you may see a decided shift in the enthusiasm for impeachment. On the other hand, if Republicans carry the day and gain new political power, the president could be in even hotter water.

What does any of this have to do with how we really feel? What we really hope? Who we really want in and out? Perhaps very little.

But the founding fathers set up a system in this country to register public opinion, and unfortunately, unlike pollsters, it doesn’t come to you. You have to go to it. And as long as the majority of us don’t bother to vote, our opinion will be just another interesting statistic.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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