Poll Numbers and Government Priorities
Two recent newspaper articles have suggested that the results of the Rhode Island College Bureau of Government Research and Services poll released on July 1 imply that immigration enforcement is not an issue of interest to Rhode Islanders; one article was from a source with an established track record of writing thoughtful, long-form news-analysis pieces, Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix…
[Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte] calls Cicilline’s liberal stance on immigration “absolutely right for the city,” but, he adds, “[I] think it does not play out well in a broader discussion.”…the other was from Scott MacKay of the Projo…
This might be a safe assumption, considering how the mayor and Providence Police Chief Dean Esserman have faced considerable public criticism for bucking Carcieri’s executive order on immigration. (Then again, in a recent Rhode Island College poll, just four percent of respondents ranked illegal immigration among the state’s biggest problems.)
Last night, Governor Carcieri was again on national television –– conservative Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly’s show –– to talk about his executive order cracking down on immigration.In reponse to both excerpts, let me suggest that using polling results from open-ended questions to determine what people believe government’s day-to-day priorities should be is a premise flawed from the start. In the present-day Rhode Island that we know and love, we have a perfect example of the limitations.
While Carcieri, some legislators and the talk-radio hosts may think the issue is gaining traction locally, a recent public opinion survey by veteran pollster and political science Prof. Victor Profughi, of Rhode Island College, shows a substantial disconnect between average Rhode Islanders and political figures pushing illegal immigration as a top issue.
When asked “what do you think is the biggest problem facing Rhode Island right now,” hardly any respondents mentioned illegal immigration. Thirty-three percent said the economy, 17 percent said the state budget, 6 percent mentioned gas prices, 8 percent listed government corruption, 6 percent said taxes, 5 percent said education and 4 percent said illegal immigration.
According to that same RIC poll, a whopping total of 1% of people surveyed gave an answer of “roads” when asked what the biggest problem facing the state was. We can safely take an answer of “roads” to include the sub-category of “potentially collapsing bridges”, a problem the RI public is well-aware of.
Now, as far as I know, no one is seriously arguing that any plans for addressing Rhode Island’s bridge maintenance troubles should be placed on the backburner until a bunch of other problems with better polling numbers are “solved”. I haven’t seen anyone in the mainstream media, in the blogosphere or in person argue that Governor Carcieri’s March announcement (the same month the illegal immigration executive order was issued, by the way) of Rhode Island’s need to effect 600 million dollars worth of “bridge repair and replacement” was a distraction from the “real” issues that government should be paying attention to. Indeed, the reaction to the bridging troubles has been exactly opposite, more along the lines of why wasn’t state government paying better attention to this all along — again, despite a meager 1% polling number for the problem of “roads”.
So if a one-one-hundredth polling response does not delegitimatize the decision by Rhode Island’s executive branch of government to take some high-visibility steps to address problems that have developed over the long term in the area of “roads”, then why should Governor Carcieri’s decision to address the problem of illegal immigration — a problem also that also has been allowed to build up over the long term — be viewed as controversial because of a similarly low (but higher) polling response?
Would it make sense to stop repairing the bridges too?