Bailout Plan Rejected, Markets Plunge, Straight Talk for Twisted Numbers

It's true: the American financial system is on the verge of collapse because many of our representatives from the House of Representatives are fixated on polls that claim to represent the opinion of their constituencies.

The following excerpt from Neil Postman's marvelous book entitled Technopoly delightfully exposed an inherent weakness in interpreting polling results:

"Pollsters ask questions that will elicit yes or no answers. Polling ignores what people know about the subjects they are queried on. In a culture that is not obsessed with measuring and ranking things, this omission would probably be regarded as bizarre."

"But let us imagine what we would think of opinion polls if the questions came in pairs, indicating what people "believe" and what they "know" about the subject. If I may make up some figures, let us suppose we read the following:"

"The latest poll indicates that 72 percent of the American public believes we should withdraw economic aid from Nicaragua. Of those who expressed this opinion; 28 percent thought Nicaragua was in Central Asia, 18 percent thought it was an island near New Zealand and 27.4 percent believed that ‘Africans should help themselves,’ obviously confusing Nicaragua with Nigeria."

"Moreover, of those polled, 61.8 percent did not know that Americans give economic aid to Nicaragua, and 23 percent did not know what ‘economic aid’ means. Were pollsters inclined to provide such information, the prestige and power of polling would be considerably reduced... "
Getting Specific

Television coverage of the failed bailout plan coupled with the accompanying stock market's trillion dollar slide presented many "Main Street Interviews" with so-called average Americans. Hostility towards Wall Street and corporate America was quite evident.

Without doubt, many criticisms were well-founded. But very few of those interviewed seem to understand the impact of the rejection of the bailout plan on their personal lives. Most were confused about the relationship between and among vanishing credit, diminished pension benefits, job creation, inflation and a host of other nasty potential consequences of the failed financial-rescue package.

In short, most of those "average" Americans interviewed tended to think in a vacuum. Indeed, when some interviewers attempted to explain the realistic scenarios that could unfold, many lacked the willingness to listen and to believe the facts.

Most business readers realize organizational effectiveness is not a matter of devising policies by consensus or getting the winning support of the people needed to execute the policies that have been decided upon.

Harvard's Ted Levitt said, "People who advocate organizational democracy generally do it because of sentiment or ideology, not because of what they know is best. But they suffer from the warped notion that democracy must always, and at all levels, be participative rather than merely representative—in short, that everything must be done by referendum lest it fall from grace."

Simply put, the realities of life tell us that organizations whose leaders have been democratically elected are no less democratic for telling their members to do what they're told. "The leadership need not seek the permission of its constituency for every deed it expects the constituency to perform."

We hope you'll agree with our assertion that our congressional leaders would be wise to read, re-read, study and underline Postman's sage advice about the meaningless polls.