The Grimes Poll

OCT. 8, 2010

A friend and I have a bet about this election cycle. He says that voters are lazy, dumb and selfish and will reelect Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer. Being an eternal optimist, I disagree. I think that if voters are provided accurate information, they eventually do the right thing. But the key is getting accurate information about candidates and issues, which may play handily into my friend’s theory.

But more and more voters are doing their own research on candidates and issues, and not just relying on mainstream media for information.

I know this because I’ve been conducting my own private poll for the last few weeks, asking friends, neighbors, acquaintances and even strangers about the upcoming election, politicians and our future. I spoke to more than 120 different people in and around Sacramento within a four-week period.

And even I was surprised. Voter anger is pronounced, and does not bode well for the current batch of politicians on either side of the aisle.

Everyone I spoke with said that they vote. I live in a neighborhood that is 88 percent registered Democrats, but I spoke to people all over the region.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery of my unscientific poll is that voters are sick of politicians, not politics. The subject of politics seemed to interest nearly everyone, and everyone seemed to be a political strategist. But when the politicians entered the discussion, anger surfaced. And it’s not just cynicism – it’s real anger, at politicians who, voters say, have manipulated the political process to the breaking point.

Many of the people I polled volunteered that they believe nearly all politicians lie, especially when making promises they know they can’t keep. But the lies run deeper than promises.

Most of the voters I spoke with said that it’s offensive that politicians tell voters what they think we want to hear. Which segued nicely into comments about politicians being self-serving, who merely work to remain in some type of elected office, or for a lucrative political appointment, or to create a lobbying firm to influence former colleagues on behalf of special interests. Everyone I spoke with stated disgust and anger with these specific issues.

My unscientific poll found that 100 percent of the people I spoke with believe that constituents have little or no meaningful impact on politicians’ agendas. Conversely, lobbyists and unions receive all of the attention, because they have all of the power and money.

Voters that I polled said that have observed that nearly every politician gets on the gravy train usually starting with a local elected office, and then ride it to the state capitol, Washington, D.C., or often both. They said that the further a politician gets from his or her home district, the easier it is to meld with the political culture in the Capitol. The consensus was that politicians love this part of politics. They become so entrenched in the system, and owe more and more favors to the special interests that put them in office.

The words acquiesce and compromise came up many times in discussion. People indicated that they were very tired of their elected officials bowing to pressure from their respective parties, instead of remaining firm on issues either important to the district, or about taxes and budget. Of particular interest to voters were the issues and promises politicians campaigned on, and the overwhelming notion that in order to “coexist” in the legislature, politicians must compromise.

One of the more heated issues was the much overused word “transparency.” Democratic and Republican voters said they were growing increasingly distrustful of what really happens within city councils, boards of supervisors and the Legislature behind closed doors, away from the public. When discussing the secrecy with which “the people’s business” is done, the voters I spoke with were very angry, and most said the business is done in secret to conceal the big-business and union money and influence flowing to the politicians.

A particularly upsetting topic of discussion with voters was how aggressive all levels of government have become, as well as the arrogance or cockiness displayed by many government employees in service positions. And since I spoke with many state employees in my informal poll, I expected a great deal of push back on this, but only got affirmation.

One group of voters I spoke with at a party was made up of several state employees, three people who work with private contracting firm and one lawyer. Each of them told of how difficult it is for them to get work-related permits and licenses, including dealing with the DMV and various county services, and how openly hostile many of the government employees can be.

Of course, there were a few people I polled who know politicians personally. They reported positive character traits about the individual, but were still unhappy with politicians in general. They seemed to like “their” politician, but none of the others.

While this was a very unscientific experiment, I kept hearing the same types of comments but from very different voters. Party registration did not matter. To voters, everyone just wants the economy fixed — meaning, they want people working again so they have money to spend, so companies can provide goods and services and hire more people, etc. But the way the party in power has been attempting to “fix” it has only made things worse.

Anger is running deeply right now and that may lead to dramatic changes beginning Nov. 3. And while change is often a healthy process, it can also be painful, and every bit as awkward as pimples, hormones and braces.

We’re in for some adolescent moments ahead – everyone I polled agreed on that.

– Katy Grimes

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