Dumbing on down

To the Editor:

There is discussion about towns using an online polling service to ask their citizens yes-or-no questions about topics of public interest. It’s not a good idea, and I urge my town, Mount Desert, to refrain from participating.

We need many more face-to-face conversations in this country and far fewer “yes” or “no” clicks that serve to render public discussion nearly meaningless, reactionary, shallow and alienated. These sorts of surveys only offer people a chance to state their own broad bias with no room for ambiguity or nuance. They create the false illusion of having participated in a meaningful way. That just serves to entrench the bias, not further meaningful citizen engagement.

We have an obligation as members of our community to do much better than that.

All too often, such surveys, which are ubiquitous online, are not composed in a valid manner. They are subject to “ballot stuffing.” They never sample accurate cross-sections of the community. They are not capable of being conducted in a statistically valid manner and providing reliable information.

Suppose a survey is conducted. People vote “yes” by a heavy majority. But, a more in-depth discussion of the matter reveals to the decision makers that the correct answer is “no.” What is the board or council going to do then? And how are the “yes” voters going to feel? And act? How has that improved communication?

I am sure the proposal to use these devices is well intended, and I applaud the attempt to increase public participation, but let’s not dumb ourselves down like this.

Gail Marshall

Mount Desert


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