Democracy in Action

Yesterday’s Gallup poll finding that the town hall protests are having the desired effects of gaining sympathy for the protestors and increasing doubts about health care reform efforts is getting a lot of attention.  Those results don’t surprise me, however.  (They do surprise Mickey Kaus.)

What is interesting is this:

Frank Newport:

There is a fair degree of consensus among Democrats, independents, and Republicans about the “shouting down” behavior as described in the survey, with a clear majority of each partisan group saying that this represents an abuse of democracy.

Opinions are more divided on the other two behaviors. For both the “angry attacks” and “booing” behaviors, a majority of Democrats say they are abuses, while a majority of Republicans say they are democracy in action. In both instances, independents are more likely to side with the Republican than with the Democratic position.

The consensus strikes me as exactly right:  shouting down supporters is an abuse of democracy whereas booing politicians is democracy in action.   I’m actually stunned that an overwhelming majority of Democrats think booing a Congressman is an abuse of democracy!  Expressing disapproval of one’s elected representatives is the very essence of the First Amendment.

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    I’m actually stunned that an overwhelming majority of Democrats think booing a Congressman is an abuse of democracy!

    That’s probably just because there wasn’t a “Rude Democracy” option. There are actions that are good without being “Democracy in Action”, and bad without being “Abuse of Democracy”. The question, and available options, was really just collecting whether someone thought the given action was good or bad, not if it was necessarily Democratic.

  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    I’m actually stunned that an overwhelming majority of Democrats think booing a Congressman is an abuse of democracy!

    Im not. Why would you shout down your bread and butter…

    For a Democrat shouting down a congressmen is like talking back to your mom, dad,boss, Doctor, best friend, union rep. and god.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    If your definition of democracy is “tyranny of the majority”, anything that stands in the way of the will of that majority is undemocratic.

    It’s an odd perception, I think. Bootstrapping. Winning an election and having the majority agree with you aren’t the same thing.

  4. sam says:

    Yesterday’s Gallup poll finding that the town hall protests are having the desired effects of gaining sympathy for the protestors and increasing doubts about health care

    Hmmm. DougJ over at Balloon Juice on the townhall screamers:

    Did you see a lot of town hall screamers who are under 30? Any who aren’t white? Any who look like they have post-graduate degrees? Any who make over 200K a year (even Rick Santelli hasn’t been talking about death panels)?

    Of course not. The teabaggers are old, white, uneducated, and not particularly well-off. In short, they’re part of a demographic where Republicans are already maxed out. The presence of unions and the fact that Republican policies are not economically advantageous to lower and middle-income voters put a ceiling on how much of this demographic Republicans will ever capture. And they’re pretty close to that ceiling right now.

  5. hcantrall says:

    Also taking into account which party is running the show right now – of course Dems would say any attack on their policies is abuse of democracy. Just like if the other party was running the show, Dems would be the ones being rude or “abusing democracy”. Commonsense tells us the same thing, we don’t need a poll to know that all people are prejudiced.

  6. David says:

    I think the poll results are simply a function of the time period in which the poll was conducted. If this same poll had been taken 6 years ago, with a Republican president and majorities in both houses of Congress, I imagine the numbers would have been reversed. The Democrats being polled are thinking in terms of the present – and at present they are seeing annoying right-wing protesters every night on the news.

  7. Tlaloc says:

    I think the issue here is you aren’t distinguishing between “democracy in action” and “the 1st amendment in action.” Those things aren’t synonymous. Booing an elected official is an example of the second but not the first. That said booing an elected official is also not an “abuse of democracy.” Voter fraud, robocalls designed to falsely link an opponent to an issue or quote, a coup d’etat- those are abuses of democracy. Yelling fire maliciously or shouting down a town hall are abuses of the 1st amendment right to free speech.

    In other words the question was badly written and essentially nonsensical.

  8. “’m actually stunned that an overwhelming majority of Democrats think booing a Congressman is an abuse of democracy!”

    But booing Bush would’ve been OK.

    I don’t even say this to slam Democrats here. It seems like every day I come more and more to the conclusion that politics is less about being right and more about power plays, winning, and supporting your own side. Next time we have a Republican congressional majority again, run the same poll. I’d bet money you’ll see more or less mirror image results.

  9. Furhead says:

    Temporary booing or applauding is fine. The line is clearly crossed when you attempt to shut down a speaker completely. This is obvious to me, regardless of the issue being discussed.

  10. Wayne says:

    I agree with David and Russell in it depends if it is your guy being booed or not. That said many of the crowds I seen on T.V. reciprocate the treatment they get. When the politicians act rude and condescending to them they return it in kind. When they stay calm and treat them with respect they tend to be calmer and more willing to listen. When you have the President and Speaker of the House and Majority leader of the House bashing the protestor they return it in kind.

    Reminds me of those that keep interrupting you until you get tired of it and start interrupting them then they accuse you of being rude for interrupting them but won’t take any responsibility themselves or change their behavior.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    It seems like every day I come more and more to the conclusion that politics is less about being right and more about power plays, winning, and supporting your own side.

    When has politics not been about power plays, winning, and supporting your own side…

  12. TangoMan says:

    shouting down supporters is an abuse of democracy whereas booing politicians is democracy in action.

    What I find astounding is that the notion that it is completely within the bounds of acceptable behavior for a majority of people to decide who another individual should conduct their private affairs. This whole notion of the government setting out to take-over 16% of the economy, that mandarins will be intruding into the physician-patient relationship, that people are intent on wiping out insurer choice by subsidizing a public option to undercut private providers, etc is a fair and legitimate exercise of democracy.

    If someone intruded into my life and declared that the community had taken a vote and the community had decided that I must sever the relationship with my wife, well, I would hope that I would do more than just boo this decision.

  13. TangoMan says:

    When has politics not been about power plays, winning, and supporting your own side…

    When government was so small that its decisions had very little impact on one’s life. As government grows in size the stakes increase commensurately.

    If government wasn’t involved in the intimate affairs of medical care, end of life decisions, and only took 2% of your income, then you could probably live your life without really caring which party in far-off Washington was screwing up with the inconsequential amount of assets that they managed.

  14. Michael says:

    TangoMan:
    I already have no choice of insurer, and my current insurer already intrudes between me and my doctor. Tell me what changes with a public option.

  15. TangoMan says:

    I already have no choice of insurer, and my current insurer already intrudes between me and my doctor. Tell me what changes with a public option.

    That’s odd, for I have a very large choice of insurers – all I need do, if it is important enough to me, is to meet the conditions for joining a new group. With a monopolistic government provider all choice, no matter how difficult to exercise, is gone. Secondly, if my present group doesn’t like the insurer we can initiate a change. So if we find them to restrictive, too intrusive, too callus in their dealings with a member of the group, we take our business away from them and reward another insurer with our premiums.

  16. TangoMan says:

    Close tag

  17. Wayne says:

    “When has politics not been about power plays, winning, and supporting your own side…”

    When people and representative care more about what a representative stood for than what party he belongs. Now it is “Who can we get to win from our party instead of can he represent my values”. Representatives care more about toeing the party line and getting high value chairs more than doing what they believe in. We have people from both parties who only care about winning.

    I understand about being practical but this is one time being practical has hurt our country more than staying true to our country’s core principals. Short term benefits has hurt us in the long run.

  18. Michael says:

    That’s odd, for I have a very large choice of insurers – all I need do, if it is important enough to me, is to meet the conditions for joining a new group.

    Lucky you. I, however, can’t get private insurance to cover my son, so my only choice is the group coverage I get from my employer.

    if my present group doesn’t like the insurer we can initiate a change. So if we find them to restrictive, too intrusive, too callus in their dealings with a member of the group, we take our business away from them and reward another insurer with our premiums.

    So, if we label your group “America”, the other member of your group “Citizens” and we label that other insurer “Government”, how is that different than what is happening right now?

  19. Michael says:

    When people and representative care more about what a representative stood for than what party he belongs.

    So, back in the Washington administration? Nope, not even then.

  20. There is so much rhetoric from both sides of this thing it is getting a bit crazy. I wish both sides would relax and really look at what is out there. We either come up with something or we are all sunk

  21. Michael says:

    There is so much rhetoric from both sides of this thing it is getting a bit crazy. I wish both sides would relax and really look at what is out there. We either come up with something or we are all sunk

    The problem is that we did stop and think about this, and we came up with two mutually exclusive ideas.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    When government was so small that its decisions had very little impact on one’s life.

    We have people from both parties who only care about winning.

    I see…so all of our country’s earliest elections were full of sunniness and nonpartisanship and never involved power plays, winning, and supporting your own side? Umm, not really…but I guess I see why some would try to pin the blame on “big government” since these same people are opposed to “big government”…

  23. Tlaloc says:

    What I find astounding is that the notion that it is completely within the bounds of acceptable behavior for a majority of people to decide who another individual should conduct their private affairs.

    I’d like to hear the mental gymnastics you engage in to make “shouting down a town hall” into a “private affair.”

    Do tell.

  24. TangoMan says:

    I see…so all of our country’s earliest elections were full of sunniness and nonpartisanship and never involved power plays, winning, and supporting your own side?

    You’re misconstruing the point. There have always been people interested in politics. There have always been people whose personal interests were affected by politics. I contend that the level of disinterest and ignorance of the political issues of the day was greater 150 years ago, out on the frontier, because the immediacy of daily life took precedence over the inconsequentiality of what was happening in Washington, DC.

    It’s almost axiomatic in my view – you’ll care more about politics if the consequences of politics fall on you. In corrupt societies riven with patronage, where political leaders loot the State and divy up the proceeds with the factions that deliver support, the stakes are very high. In societies with a small government footprint, mostly historical examples now, the dictates of government didn’t have much impact on people. How much did Seward’s purchase of Alaska matter to men like Charles Ingalls (of Little House on the Praire fame) and his contemporaries? Where these folks, far removed from political circles, out protesting in the street when they had fields to plant or crops to harvest? How did Seward’s purchase affect their lives? If it didn’t affect their lives, then they probably didn’t care much.

    As government grows and intrudes further into people’s lives, the stakes for everyone increase and so too does the fervor of fighting for the cause. Why do you think that lobbying has grown so pervasive? When government is commanding trillions of dollars then it pays to expend effort to get a part of the gravy train. When government is a minimal presence then that same effort is better used to create value rather than extort value.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    re: TangoMan | August 13, 2009 | 10:54 pm

    Good luck putting that genie back in that bottle…not even Republicans try to do that anymore….