WASHINGTON, March 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says he doesn't listen to public opinion polls; public opinion polls say Dick Cheney (and other politicians) should listen to public opinion polls. But how do you convince a politician that he should -- according to the people -- listen to public opinion polls when he doesn't believe in them?
In an interview aired March 19 on ABC News, Cheney said he did not listen to public opinion polls; however, a new poll finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe government leaders should pay attention to public opinion polls and that the public should generally have more influence over government leaders than it does.
This latest poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org is part of a larger international research project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The study was conducted Jan. 18-27 on a total of 975 Americans by Knowledge Networks. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Here's what they found:
When it comes to making an important decision, 81 percent say government leaders "should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public's views." But that is assuming government leaders really care what the public thinks, especially when they are not up for re-election.
Only 18 percent of respondents said "they should not pay attention to public opinion polls because this will distract them from deciding what they think is right."
When Cheney was told during the ABC News interview that public opinion polls show an overwhelming opposition to the war in Iraq, Cheney's response was: "So?"
And when the interviewer pressed him asking, "So -- you don't care what the American people think?" he responded, "No," and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."
Americans also roundly reject the position put forward by White House spokeswoman Dana Perino in an effort to explain Cheney's comments. Asked whether the public should have "input," she replied, "You had your input. The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up."
In this recent poll the question was asked if Americans think that "elections are the only time when the views of the people should have influence, or that also between elections, leaders should consider the views of the people as they make decisions," a whopping 94 percent responded that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections.
The main focus of the new study is the principle expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating: "The will of the people should be the basis of the authority of government." Once again a clear majority -- 87 percent of respondents -- said they agreed with it.
In a clear reflection of the administration's dwindling popularity amid growing belief the general public is dissatisfied with the way this government has handled affairs, to the question, "How much is this country governed according to the will of the people?" respondents gave the government a failing grade. Asked to answer on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 meaning "not at all" and 10 meaning "completely," the mean response was 4.
Asked how much the country should be governed according to the will of the people, the mean response was 7.9, while 83 percent of respondents said the will of the people should have more influence that it does.
To the question, "Generally speaking, would you say that this country is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, or that it is run for the benefit of all the people?" just 19 percent say it is run for the benefit of all the people, while 80 percent say it is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.
Asked, "How much of the time do you think you can trust the national government in Washington to do what is right?" 60 percent say "only some of the time" while 37 percent say most of the time and 3 percent just about always.
Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org and PIPA, said, "While Americans do not say that leaders should always follow the will of the public, they do think that American leaders should be considerably more responsive to the people and should even pay attention to polls. Dismissing the public as irrelevant and incompetent only contributes to already low levels of trust in government."
Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.