a blog by josef johann

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


YouGov is a web-based polling organization. While "online poll" might call to mind the polls "crashed" by P.Z. Meyers, or the FOX/MSNBC insta-polls that almost always show 97% agreement with the partisan bent of the question, YouGov tries to escape the overwhelming forces of internet self-selection by filtering for partisan identification, and then adjusting for demographics.

Whether they succeed I don't know, but a better question is whether they are even trying to. I recently got a notice via email from YouGov about a new poll they are conducting (more specifically, that PollingPoint, a branch of YouGov is conducting), and I find it hard to believe a professional non-partisan polling organization would ask such transparently slanted questions as the two I'm about to present. Here is the first one:

In the Senate, it takes the votes of 60 out of 100 Senators to stop debate and force a vote on a bill. But Democrats in the Senate may use a parliamentary procedure known as budget reconciliation to pass the health care bill with only 51 votes. How do you feel about using budget reconciliation to pass the existing health care bill with a simple majority?

The 60-vote supermajority, which has only just emerged as an omnipresent procedural hurdle in the past 2 of our nation's 233 years, or 0.86% of our country's history, is presented by YouGov as an unsurprising, garden variety fact. And then they subtly other-ize the reconciliation process, a strange parliamentary procedure. They present Democrats as if they were circumventing a standard, respected (unprecedented) supermajority vote, in order to pass legislation with only 51 votes. Of course, this conforms completely to the Republican frame, alternately worded as "ram-it-through" or "jam it down America's throat".

And besides this inversion of context, which tells us that Democrats are circumventing a standard Senate procedure, which tells us that a heretofore unprecedented tactic of scorched earth filibustering is to be taken for granted, we have the fact that this runs counter to the intent of our Framers.

William Blake's article on the filibuster, which I just noticed because it was revised yesterday, goes into this:

The Constitution contains six procedural references: the tie breaking vote of the vice president, a two-thirds vote for conviction on impeachment charges, a simple majority for a quorum, a two-thirds majority for expulsion of a member of Congress, the “Yeas and Nays” clause, and a two-thirds requirement to override a presidential veto. The fact that half of these provisions deal with supermajorities shows that the Framers wanted to limit the number of cases in which majority rule should not prevail. Under this philosophy, if the Framers had considered the filibuster to be such an important right for minorities, it would be logical that a supermajority provision for cloture would exist in the Constitution as a fourth exception to majority rule.

No such provision exists. I think Blake's point is most strongly made when he cites Federalist 10 by Alexander Hamilton:

To give a minority a negative upon the majority is in its tendency to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser number…The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been formed upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.

YouGov/PollingPoint asks that you take the opposite sentiment for granted. From the same poll was this mischievous question:

As you may know, charter schools are independent public schools that are freed from some of the rules and regulations that apply to other public schools. Do you think the number of charter schools should be increased or decreased?

Regulations and rules are something that you should be "freed from," a characterization that, again, conforms perfectly with the Republican frame.

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