When did polling replace thinking?
Until thinking replaces polling again, we should be skeptical about anything we hear involving a poll -- especially anything political -- and use the opportunity to enlighten ourselves about the facts on any issue in question.
Polls, though, are just the ticket for our sound-bite society.
We don't have time to read an analysis about the situation in the Middle East, but if a poll says 62 percent of the American people are against taking any action against the Islamic State and Syria, we're also against it.
We don't think about panicking when the flu kills from 3,000 to 49,000 people in the United States every year, but if 78 percent of the country believes Ebola is a national crisis if one man in the U.S. dies, we're on board with full crisis status.
We don't have any idea about what goes into the decisions our presidents make, but if their decisions hit us in the wallet and their popularity drops off the table, we're down on them too.
We have access to more news and more analysis than ever before, but we listen and think less than probably ever before. Indeed, one could argue intelligently that such polling has driven a centrist nation -- with its fringes on the left and right -- to polarization.
Take the debate on the Tennessee constitutional amendment involving abortion that will be voted on in next month's election.
The "yes" side -- which this page supports -- claims the amendment is all about women's health, that a "yes" vote would lead to safer abortions. But it's not about women's health. While women would benefit from safer regulations involving abortions, it's about reducing the number of babies aborted. Both sides should want that, but that's what the "yes" vote is about.
The "no" side has claimed the amendment would halt all abortions. While a "no" vote could lead to some laws regulating abortion to be introduced and passed, it cannot stop legal abortions. The Supreme Court, now more than 40 years ago, has ruled them legal. In fact, the "no" side wants abortion to continue unfettered and as often as necessary.
So most people vote on the lies they hear. If you're at all pro-life, you certainly want better health for women. If you're at all pro-abortion, you certainly don't want abortions to stop.
Paul Krugman, writing recently in Rolling Stone, said low approval poll ratings are the new normal for White House occupants. Understand that his hypothesis was in defense of President Barack Obama, over whom he and other left-leaning columnists have showered with praise and defended for years, but he has a point.
Both Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, saw their approval ratings plummet as their two-term administrations droned on and fatigue set in.
Krugman argues that the current president has, in reality, been one of the most successful in United States history. No one outside of the fringe left buys into that, but Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza puts where we are today in perspective.
"As our tendency to see everything through which partisan glasses we wear has both increased and distanced us from people with whom we disagree," he writes, "the way in which presidents are perceived has followed suit. Every year, Gallup gathers its data to compare the relative views of presidents by party. Of the 12 most polarized years -- defined as the years with the largest gaps between how the two parties see the president -- in Gallup's history, 10 of them have come during the tenures of George W. Bush and Barack Obama."
Cillizza says given such poll-driven partisanship, "it's impossible to imagine a president enjoying any sort of broad (or even narrow) bipartisan support for any extended period of his or her presidency."
Polling even over trivial matters has been around a while. Remember the cola wars? Softest toilet paper dispute? So polling is not going away. But now politicians poll to determine what they should think on an issue. And they can find out how the issue tests with white, black, rich, poor, gay, straight, urban, rural and income above or below $50,000.
And we buy into it by reading only what the majority of people think -- and adding our names to it.
A better option: Read and think for yourself. Our country will be 97 percent better.