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Shaping Manteca leaders by polling questions costs us real leadership

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POSTED September 10, 2010 3:06 a.m.
The caller was polite enough.

He said he wasn’t selling anything but just wanted a few minutes of my time to answer some questions.

After asking multiple choice questions of my interest in voting in the November election and whether I supported Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown, he got down to brass tacks.

He wanted my opinion about Manteca issues and the four candidates for mayor – Debby Moorhead, Ben Cantu, Willie Weatherford, and Carlon Perry.

At this point I interrupted his questioning and asked for whom he was conducting the poll. He said it was a research firm. I said that wasn’t what I meant. Is the client one of the four candidates or perhaps a developer? Again, the pollster simply confirmed that he was doing the calling for a research firm.

When he didn’t answer my question I politely ended the call.

The act of polling – which supposedly is to read the pulse of likely voters – is getting a bit out of hand.

Polls are nothing new in Manteca elections but you have to ask yourself why are they needed and whether they do more harm than good.

First of all, what does it matter who you support for governor? There are two separate set of problems. Besides, city council and mayor races aren’t partisan positions.

Second, wouldn’t it be nice to have leaders who simply do the right thing in their personal judgment of various situations instead of relying on polls to gauge public sentiment? I’m not advocating ignoring the public but you elect leaders to lead, not poll.

We elect leaders to make decisions not to pander to our biases and prejudices so they can get elected or re-elected.

Third, and perhaps the worst thing about polls, is how the questions are asked. One dealt with my feelings about crime in Manteca after 14 police officers (memo to research firm:  it was 12 not 14) were laid off.

I replied that I said I thought crime was down a bit except for gang violence that I believed was up. Of course, that wasn’t one of the choices.

That leads to questions where they framed the positions of candidates not to elicit an opinion but to drive home the point that one candidate did something that the caller may have said they don’t or do support. It isn’t as much as a poll and a mild form of delivering a subliminal message about where candidates stand in the context framed by the research firm. Of course, that context is framed by whoever hired them.

And what about drilling down a bit so as not to treat voters like they’re dunces?

Why not ask something along the lines of should the council not have laid off 12 police officers but instead of ask where else in the city budget cuts should be made and then give the options such as cutting back on firefighters, reducing street maintenance, reducing library hours, closing down parks, or whatever options they wanted to ask.

Things don’t work in a vacuum yet we are asking people to give their opinion based on an incomplete scenario.

The poll was as if money had nothing to do with it or – as detractors of the incumbents have pointed out – the amount of money that the current council elected to give police officers had everything to do with setting the stage for the layoffs.

Then there is an issue of asking about priorities. I certainly hope public safety is No. 1. Every candidate has said it is in and there is no reason to doubt it. What about finding out what the second biggest concern is in Manteca and perhaps the third? One can’t do that as it would defeat the poll’s purpose which is to chart the safest path for a candidate to take to get elected.

If the poll was conducted on behalf of an incumbent, one hopes they have the courage of their convictions and stand on their decisions instead of bending – or posturing – simply to get re-elected.

And if the poll was conducted for a challenger one hopes the results won’t take the edge off their stances or dilute their positions.

At least one of the challengers running in the council/mayor races has said wages of existing employees need to be cut. That is a pretty bold position but it also might be the right position given the overall picture. One would hope if the polling data shows there is no stomach for such a move that they simply won’t abandon it.

Governing by poll is not leadership. It is a cop out.
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