The Pollsters

Posted on February 23, 2020


Normally I don’t pay as much attention to polls as perhaps others do. I once read that President Clinton made few decisions without a pollster taking the pulse of what the people felt about this or that issue. I don’t know if Bill Clinton was that wishy washy about simply doing what he thought was right, rather than wait for the polls to tell him what Americans supported or found fault with, but I expect more from my leaders. He probably didn’t take a poll on having sex in the White House with various females other than his wife, but he did take polls on just about everything else.

Ok, let’s not knock leaders for sexual peccadillos. We’d be taking down the likes of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. for starters and I’m not feeling like attacking icons this morning.

What caught my attention was a poll of sorts taken recently by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama’s Public Opinion Survey, 2019 Edition. It was done in partnership with Dr. Randolph Horn of Samford University and more or else took the pulse of what Alabamians felt about prisons, education, taxes and trust. Since I am in education, and minister in the local jail, pay taxes, and wonder if we should ever trust politicians, I read a summary of the results. I liked them.

We are a thoughtful and good people. I am glad we determine through the vote how to govern ourselves, although I think politicians have a very difficult job. I once started an essay for our column on “can a Christian be a successful politician,” and never finished it. The closest modern one was, at least I thought, was Jimmy Carter since I was thinking largely of Presidents not the mayor of your hometown.

I think Jimmy started with great promise, but he failed to deliver at the end, for a lot of reasons, especially presiding over double digit inflation and a failed foreign policy at the end, while he was publicly trying to live as close as he could to the teachings of Jesus and the principles and admonitions in Scripture. Or, to put it in ancient times, could you be Caesar and conquer the world, and still be Paul and teach service and love and the righteousness of God in a world governed by earthly manifestations of power and authority?

I gave up on writing that piece, albeit just temporarily. If you would like to suggest some great political leaders who were also exemplary Christians, send me an email. My address is below.

Now turning to “What do Alabamians think?” in The Advisor the little, but very useful, newsletter for the Retirement System of Alabama.

Only “a slight majority of Alabamians oppose building new prisons, but an overwhelming majority support expanding rehabilitation and re-entry programs” for people leaving prisons and jails. To which I say a loud AMEN.

I don’t think there is a more critical issue facing us, unless it is education.

“Alabamians,” by the way, “value education, rating it a top priority among major state services.” As an old watcher, by virtue of both age and experience, again, I say YES. Alabamians say, “education investment should be increased, as too little is now spent on education.” Even “a majority of residents are willing to pay more in taxes to increase funding for education.” When I see examples of teachers, often in smaller, rural districts, spending their own money to buy supplies, or perhaps a pair of sneakers for one of their kids from an impoverished home, I’m thinking “this is wrong.”

When looking at the tax system, one always can find something to fix. “There is some evidence,” for example, that our tax system is regressive.

“Majorities of residents say low-income residents pay too much, and those with higher incomes pay too little.” That’s the meaning of regressive. Who, for example, pays a greater percentage of their income on food when taxes on food go up? Is it the guy making $10 an hour to support his family, or the one who has stashed his wealth of a hundred million dollars on some island in the Caribbean?

It must be a fair formula across the spectrum of wealth in the state; for that we need gifted and intelligent politicians who have both the knowledge and the compassion and understanding of a complex world.

 However, “consistently high percentages of Alabamians feel that they have no say in Montgomery or that state officials do not care what they think.” And, this suggests “that Alabamians do not believe state government is responsive to their concerns.”

So, to summarize, rehab and rehabilitation are high on the needs of prison reforms. There is not much support for building new prisons and expanding their size, but there is support for not incarcerating those guilty of non-violent crimes to bring the prison population down.

Make schools better, across the spectrum of the teaching world, from restoring true discipline in the classrooms to making the curriculum consistent with the standards we are supposed to meet. Keep those standards high. Do not water them down to accommodate everyone. Push the kids to be achievers.

I am not so old and crochety to say we need to teach Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic like we did in a single room schoolhouse in some place like rural Alabama in 1900. That’s the way we did it in the old days! God save us from the old days.

I watched Ken Burns’ new documentary on country music a few weeks ago and the images and movie reels of life in America in the 1930s and 40s are heartbreaking. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, dry and stony dirt marked the land, and the people wan, thin, and hungry. There were certainly sectors of American life living well, but for millions life was merely existence, which made music so important, the escape that shone light into a spirit.

Well, I’m not here to sell Ken Burns.

I think polls can be important guides to what we think, what we want, what we don’t want. That’s a first step. The next one is to implement our goals. Or, as the apostle James put it so explicitly in his letter, do not be just hearers of the Word, be doers.

Published as “Be doers not just hearers,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, Feb. 17 2020.