Is The Spirit Still Willing?
Polling is becoming more difficult and less reliable, for a simple reason that most pollsters will admit, at least privately. Namely, people lie to pollsters regularly. Americans have become so accustomed to opinion surveys that they know what answers are expected. They are reluctant to divulge biases that they think are out-of-touch with mainstream thinking. In this age of political correctness and cancel culture, who can blame them?
I have friend who has been in the political polling business in Washington, D.C. for decades, conducting polls for candidates. He once told me that after 30 years of polling, he has never interviewed a single racist or sexist. Oh, we all know there are such people, but when asked by a pollster, nobody wants to admit such prejudice. That raises an interesting question about whether Americans believe what they say they believe.
Stanley Modic, long-time editor of Industry Week, wrote about a revealing poll taken among business executives by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Some 87 percent described “the impact of government regulation of business” as “generally harmful.” Fully 93 percent considered government regulation as a serious deterrent to economic growth, and 68 percent feared that government bureaucracy would continue to grow. A large majority said businesses and trade associations should fight for regulatory reform and push back harder against government overreach.
But as Modic wrote, that’s where the enthusiasm ended. Fewer than half had ever been involved in any political campaign; 46 percent said their business and trade association had no political information or get-out-the-vote activities; and over 25 percent of those said they were opposed to starting one. Modic titled his column “The Spirit is Willing, But…”
This all sounds so familiar, it could have been written last week, but this column was published in the Industry Week issue of May 18, 1976 – 47 years ago during the Jimmy Carter-Gerald Ford campaign. For at least that long, informed observers have had good reason to question the conclusions of opinion surveys. A decade ago, Matt Spaulding wrote a great book called “We Still Hold These Truths,” in which he argued that America’s essential founding principles are so embedded in the public DNA that people would instinctively fight to defend their freedom, however uneducated they may have become about history and civics. Indeed, Americans overwhelmingly tell pollsters that they believe in limited government, low taxes, reduced spending, decreased regulation, and individual freedom. But after watching voting behavior during the last few elections, critics are moved to ask, do they really believe in those principles?
There are numerous examples of voter schizophrenia close to home. In 2018, for example, Colorado voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure to severely limit oil and gas drilling, by increasing required spacing to the point of banning drilling almost everywhere in the state. But while rejecting that measure, and telling pollsters they support continued energy development, voters also elected a Governor, and a majority of candidates for both houses of the legislature, who opposed such energy development. Within weeks of the election, the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission adopted regulations along the same lines as those just rejected by voters. The new Governor and legislature have pursued anti-energy policies ever since, perhaps gambling on the fact that voters don’t really think what they say they think.
Today, overwhelming majorities say they support increased domestic energy production – partly to guarantee America’s energy independence, but also to help European countries like Ukraine escape from the stranglehold of Russian oil and gas. World politics, and the future of war and peace, would be completely transformed if no nation depended on Russia, Iran, or Saudi Arabia for oil. That goal was within sight until voters elected a President who imposed new anti-fossil fuel regulations, drastically curtailing both domestic production and exports.
Administrations and policies change quickly, though, if people really want change. Do they? That remains to be seen, but as Modic concluded in that old Industry Week column, “It’s obvious that when it comes to business vs government regulation the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Americans do not need to join the war in Ukraine to turn the tide for freedom in Europe. The U.S. does not even have to supply weapons and risk a direct confrontation with Russia. All America needs to do is reboot its own industry, and free its entrepreneurial companies to produce, export, and compete. If our spirit is still willing, we can avoid this and many future wars – without firing a shot.