Politics For Dummies
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The answer is a resounding yes, but only if you’re registered to vote! If you don’t register, you declare yourself out of the game, and no one makes any effort to find out what you think or what you want. Officials don’t contact you to solicit your ideas or concerns because you don’t show up on their carefully compiled lists of registered voters. You must be registered if you want your opinions to count. Even if you don’t vote, the fact that you’re registered means that your support and opinions will still be solicited. If you don’t register, you don’t count and you don’t matter. Period.

Elected officials make genuine efforts to know what you, as a registered voter, want them to do and not do. They hold town hall events to interact with average voters like yourself and to find out what’s on your mind and what worries you most about your city, state, or country. Successful elected officials — who, along with their families and staffs, have a deep and abiding interest in whether they keep their jobs — know that the key to reelection is understanding what the voters want and, within reason, delivering it.

Your opinions are worth real money

Your elected officials pay good money to pick your brain (provided you’re a registered voter). They hire special consultants to organize focus groups and professional pollsters to conduct surveys. The burning question is this: “What’s on your mind?” . . . followed by, “How can I get what’s on your mind into my mind so that you will keep me in mind come election day?”

Focus groups

Elected officials sometimes, particularly in an election cycle, pay large amounts of money to stage cozy little get-togethers, called focus groups. Focus groups are small, scientifically selected groups of voters in an official’s district. These voters, selected at random from the list of registered voters, are paid a small fee to meet for several hours with a political consultant to discuss issues and impressions in much greater depth than polls allow.

Focus group ©Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Campaigns use focus groups to test “average” voters’ reactions to campaign themes, plans of attack that the campaign is thinking of using on the opposition, and defenses that the campaign may use to fend off attacks from the opposition.

The small group doesn’t even know who’s paying for the session, which helps the consultant obtain their candid responses. These responses can help an official know whether the voters are paying attention to what they’re saying on the stump and whether the right information is being communicated.

Because the focus group is such a small part of the electorate, usually no more than a dozen people, the campaign also conducts scientific polls on the information obtained in the focus group. But both of these expensive methods are used to discover what you think about the candidates and the issues. Elected officials and candidates spend all this time, money, and effort because they want to know what you want as well as what you think.

And you didn’t think they cared.


Elected officials — particularly, occupants of higher offices (governor, senator, congressperson, and so on) — spend tens of thousands of dollars in every election year trying to find out what you think about the issues and about the officials themselves. Political pollsters even ask how you personally feel about the candidate — for example: Are they honest? Do they care about people like you? Are they intelligent? Are they trustworthy?

Those same pollsters ask what you think about important policy issues. How do you feel that the state or country is doing? Are you better off now than two or four years ago? Are you (or is anyone in your family) afraid of losing a job? How do you feel about a particular tax increase proposal? Do you think education funding should be increased? Are you willing to increase sentences for violent crimes, even though the construction of more prisons will increase the tax burden? You get the idea.

Contrary to popular belief, officeholders, if they’re smart, really want to do what most of the voters want done. If an officeholder can determine what you want and deliver that to you, the officeholder keeps getting elected and perhaps moves on to a higher office. That’s why elected officials and candidates pay huge amounts of money to campaign consultants: to find out what you, as a registered voter, want.

Officials spend time and money inventing new ways or refining old ways of interacting with the average voter in their districts. Pollsters are paid tens of thousands of dollars to select voters at random and question them. These voters are a cross-section of the electorate in the official’s or candidate’s district. The pollsters are paid because of their expertise in drafting questions and analyzing the results of the interviews. This expensive expertise is just another way to permit the officeholder or candidate to communicate with you.

The pollsters may not do a perfect job of finding out what you think and interpreting your opinions for the elected official. Sometimes, the method of asking the questions influences the answers. Sometimes, accidentally, the sample that the pollster selected is biased in favor of one group of voters. Polling may not be a perfect way to determine what you and other registered voters think, but it’s the preferred way.

Almost every poll screens contacted people to determine whether they’re registered to vote and, if so, likely to vote. If your answer to either of these two questions is no, the interviewer writes you off as a nonperson and finds inventive ways to terminate the interview immediately. Spooky, isn’t it? Politically, you don’t exist. The elected official won’t know what you think about important issues, and probably doesn’t care. Either way, nobody will bother to ask.

Giving voters what they say they want

Once candidates or officeholders accurately determine what the voters want, they can fashion a way to deliver it. Sometimes, of course, voters want it all. People do have a tendency to ask their candidates to give them better roads, more prisons, extra dollars for education, and, while they’re at it, lower taxes. Sometimes voters want one thing one year and forget about it the next. Yes, as voters, people often have whims. And those whims can change as quickly as the length of women’s skirts.

No matter how hard officials try, and no matter how good they are, they’re not magicians. Inconsistent goals may not be possible, no matter how much the voters want them. (Scientists still haven’t developed a tree that produces dollar bills.) So, without making the thoroughly unappreciated decision to raise taxes, an official may not be able to provide for all the increased services the voters want.

Elected officials face the challenge of determining which item is most important to a majority of voters, whether they can deliver it, and how they can explain the impossibility of delivering on all goals. If delivering on the most important goal isn’t possible, officials still want to be in a position to demonstrate to voters that they’re fighting to get what they want and will keep doing so if people keep supporting them with their votes in the next election.

For example, Governor Jill Shmoe may complain that too few of the dollars her state sends in taxes to Washington are returned by the federal government. She can meet with the state’s representatives and senators to ask for help in moving more federal dollars back to the state. She may write letters to the president. She may complain about the federal government in speeches and press conferences.

Nothing may result from all this effort, but at least Governor Jill Shmoe would’ve demonstrated that she’s willing to fight for what her constituents feel is the state’s fair share of federal money. She’s responsive. She’s trying. This governor would deserve reelection if you agreed with her goals.

On the other hand, you may disagree completely with what the polls say that “the people” want. You may think that Governor Shmoe is barking up the wrong tree completely. You may want to see someone else in office, promoting better ideas in a better way. But — and by now you know what’s coming — you have no say if you’re not registered to vote.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Ann M. DeLaney is currently a Standing Trustee in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy for the Southern District of Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as Chair of a major political party in Indiana and the first woman nominated by a major party as a candidate for Indiana Lieutenant Governor. She has been a delegate to state and national party conventions.

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