The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

Scientific surveys should dictate how politicians vote in Congress.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/22/2011 Category: Politics
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,655 times Debate No: 17618
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (1)




1) The job of the politician is to carry forth the will of the people. The people's will is best expressed through surveys. For example, if 95% of people are pro raising the speed limit from 55 to 60, the speed limit should be raised.
2) A survey system enhances the First Amendment right to Petition. The right to Petition includes the right to gather signatures in support of a cause and to lobby legislative bodies for or against legislation.
3) Surveys are party and ideology neutral. There is no party controlled politics under a survey system. Good ideas stand on their own merit and are not controlled by party politics.

Scientific Survey : The polls use a specific statistical method for picking respondents. The method scientific polls use to pick interviewees relies on mathematics, it is called a random sample. All constituents are asked to offer their opinion, whether from the left, right, center, voter or non-voter. I am assuming the survey was conducted fairly by professionals and everyone can agree on the results.

Direct Democracy: I am not arguing for a direct democracy, those systems typically don't work. A politician can act as a tie breaker for 50/50 issues or those where people have no opinion.

I would be interested in what the other side has to say. Thank you.


I'd like to thank SenorSwanky for providing the opportunity to debate such an interesting topic. I hope that we will both be enlightened to some degree by this debate. So, good luck, and onto my argument.

The Best Way?

I agree with Pro that a politician's duty "is to carry forth the will of the people." However, this is where I deviate away from Pro. He claims that scientific surveys are the best way to express the people's will. However, he provides no reasons as to why the people's will is best expressed by surveys, besides an example where 95% of people are decidedly for a speed limit being raised.

However, I submit that surveys are in fact inferior to the current system in place in the United States (which I assume is the country being discussed). There are a couple reasons for this.

Surveys Aren't the Best

1. Scientific Surveys Naturally Have Error.

In his explanation of a scientific survey, Pro suggests that they are being done via a random sample to represent the population (assumingly to avoid political influence). The problem with this is that a random sampling naturally has random sampling error, even without a biased survey [1]. Therefore, the population and will of the people is not accurately represented.

2. Scientific Surveys would be Inefficient

Not only can they have error, but scientific surveys would, politically and legislatively, be very inefficient as well. This is because of a couple things.

2a. Surveys are Too Slow

The US Senate, only 1/2 of the US Congress, votes a lot. In fact, the 111th Senate (2009-10) voted a total of 696 times [2], on a wide variety of topics. Now, to take a random sampling on the opinions of the people about all of those topics would take too long of a time, logically, for each topic to vote on.

3. Not a Direct Democracy?

Pro claims that he is not arguing for a direct democracy, indicating that a direct democracy doesn't work well. First, I'd like to describe a direct democracy. A direct democracy "usually refers to citizens making policy and law decisions in person, without going through representatives and legislatures," [3]. Now, at first one may say that Pro's argument is not suggesting a direct democracy, seeing as how his argument entails representatives. However, when further examined, I submit that Pro's argument is indeed, effectively a direct democracy. His resolution is that if the majority of a legislator's constituents have a certain opinion, then the legislator should and must vote that way.

Under Pro's system, a politician is simply the direct mouthpiece of the people. The problem with this, in relation to direct democracy, is that this renders the purpose of a representative legislator effectively useless. It is true that Pro cites a 50/50 tie where this is not the case, but situations such as those are so rare, and can be resolved by surveying more people, that the purpose of a politician remains obsolete. Therefore, the representatives as described by Pro can logically be dismissed from the equation, seeing as how a congressional district is still effectively voting based on its majority opinion, and that district's majority vote is being effectively tabulated with all other districts' majority votes. And thus, Pro's system is, in fact, practically a direct democracy, and according to Pro is therefore an undesirable and poor system.

4. Surveys would Take Away the Right to Petition.

As Pro stated, the First Amendment to the US Constitution gives its citizens the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," [4]. Pro also states that, "A survey system enhances the First Amendment right to Petition. The right to Petition includes the right to gather signatures in support of a cause and to lobby legislative bodies for or against legislation." This logic is flawed, however. While it's true that the people's will would be expressed initially in a vote, the right to petition would be taken away. This is because the people would not be able to petition until another survey took the same opinion. However, this would not happen again unless another vote would be taken--which would not occur anyway, because it is assumed the direct will of the people would be exercised.


My initial argument can be summed up with a contention.

(P1) Scientific surveys naturally have error.
(P2) Scientific surveys would be inefficient.
(P3) The survey system would effectively be direct democracy, which Pro says is a poor system.
(P4) Scientific surveys would restrict the people's right to petition.

(C) The survey system should not be implemented.

Thank you, and I await Pro's response.



Debate Round No. 1


Thank you DetectableNinja for taking time to respond to my debate. Yes, I had in mind the United States when starting this debate, but I don't see why it can't apply to every nation.

Surveys as the best method to express people's opinion.
The Pew Research Center, Gallup, CNN, USA Today, NBC, ABC and CBS for example all conduct polls. These surveys do have a sampling error and perhaps the questions are not framed in the best matter. However, survey results are accepted as the best reflection of the current opinion. These polls are used in practice by policy makers and by news organizations as statistical evidence of public opinion.

1) Statistic or Sampling Error
Yes, its true that sampling error is part of any survey. Its a natural characteristic of any data collection project. However, if most people agree on the methodology and the fairness of the poll, the results of the poll can be used as a representation of the population. There are errors associated with elections, but do we constantly disregard election results? On some occasions yes, but on most occasions people accept the results.

2a) Surveys are Efficient
I can agree that surveys are costly, however they are not inefficient. The internet has made for very efficient collection of data. The survey results can be saved year after year. As certain issues resurface, people can decide to stick with their answers from previous years or to change their answer. The fact that the 111th Senate (2009-10) voted a total of 696 times underlies the need for an elected representative. Many poll questions may not have enough respondents or a majority of people may have answered "No Opinion" or "Need More Information".

3) Not a Direct Democracy
The argument that embedding surveys into the political process is the same as a direct democracy is a classic strawman argument. Its informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of my position. When I speak about a 50/50 tie, that also means a statistical tie. For example, if 52% are for and issues and 48% against, with a 4% margin of error, its a statistical tie. A politician would be need in theses cases to break the tie. A politician is also need when not enough sample data has been collected or the majority express "No Opinion". A politician is also need to negotiate certain trade offs. For example, if constituent want to spend more on health care and education but less on defense, there have to be numbers assigned to those spending requests. The politician will ultimately be the representative of the people to decide on exact figures. I would like a more democratic process in politics, but not a direct democracy.

4) Surveys would enhance the Right to Petition
The Right to Petition would not be taken away just because a prior survey has been taken. Its a baseline right included in the First Amendment and can be exercised at any time. The Right to Petition would be enhanced because people can use the survey to express their opinion and petition the politician to vote in a certain manner.

I am arguing that scientific surveys should dictate how politicians vote. At the time they are administered, surveys are the best measure of the will of the people. The United States governmental system is based on the participation of the people. Surveys are a logical extension of one aspect of democracy, letting your voice be heard. Using surveys to conduct policy is a hybrid system, let the surveys speak when possible. However, there are certain exclusions and cases where surveys many not yield usable results. In those cases a politician is still vital.


I thank my opponent for his response.

Response to Pro

1) "Statistic or Sampling Error"

Here, Pro agrees that error occurs as a natural part of a survey. However, he then proceeds to respond just by dismissing the point, citing that people generally do not refute elections which can have error as well. This logic is flawed, in that there is a key difference between an election and a random poll or survey. As well, there is vastly more room for error with surveys and polls than elections.

1a) RandomWith Pro's resolution, he proposes that the surveys are using a random sample. This is very different from an election in which practically all US citizens who are above 18 have the right to vote [1]. This is clearly different in that a survey merely gathers the opinions of a random assortment of people, while an election gathers the opinions of everyone who votes. On top of this (as Pro insinuates in section 3), many people may not respond to a survey or poll. Thus, there is a clear indication that less citizen's opinions are included with a survey, and thus opinions from different standpoints have less potential to be weighed in a representative, random sample.

1b) Coverage Bias and Exclusion
Most polls are conducted by dialing random telephone numbers [2]. These random numbers, however, generally exclude mobile (cell) phones, due to its illegality. This leads to "coverage bias," and excludes a demographic of people that live in wireless homes (homes without landlines--12.6% of the population in 2006 [2]). Therefore, an entire set of opinions can easily be excluded by having legislators pay sole attention to decisive polls, which may otherwise be not as decisive. This also can apply to internet users and non-internet users, but that will be discussed later.

1c) The Shy Elephant Factor
The Shy Elephant Factor is "term used to demonstrate a party bias in polling results," [3]. To make it more specific, it has been shown that conservatives are less likely "to participate in exit polls or other types of opinion polls over liberals,"[3]. What this does is it creates much more liberally skewed opinions in polls. This, logically, means that the polls and surveys which Pro indicates politicians must vote by can, and in reality many times are, unfairly biased toward a certain opinion, and thus does not accurately represent the people's will and opinions. This destroys Pro's argument of non bias in polls.

2) "Surveys are Efficient"

Pro implies that the polls and surveys would be conducted via internet, thus the collection of opinions is very efficient, and "can be saved year after year." The problem with this is that this method of opinion gathering excludes people as well. According to ITU, as of June 2010, 77.3% of the US population has access to, and uses, the internet [4]. While at first this may seem like enough to conduct opinion polls and surveys, there is a problem. And that problem is the 22.7% of the population that does not use the internet. For polls to be effective, even on their own in separate congressional districts, everyone, 100%, must be able to be polled. Without this, a random sample would be ineffective, not giving a portion of the population a chance to have a say on a certain topic. So, surveys have another strike against them as a system.

3) "Not a Direct Democracy"

With this argument from Pro, I will agree that what he is arguing, even though excessively flawed (as I have proved), is not a direct democracy. However, this section of Pro's does bring up another point against his proposed system. Pro states that "A politician is also need (sic) when not enough sample data has been collected or the majority express 'No Opinion'." The point that this brings up is more of a question. Pro states that, in effect, politicians are necessary for when he survey system fails. From this, I propose I question: if politicians are necessary as a backup for the survey system, and politicians can vote without it, then why is the system, which is full of flaws, even used in the first place?

4) "Surveys would enhance the Right to Petition"

Again, I will agree with Pro that surveys can enhance the right to petition. HOWEVER, I feel as though the question must be raised: for whom is the Right to Petition enhanced? It is only enhanced for the people and demographics that, by sheer chance, are represented in a congressional district most accurately, regardless of whether they accurately represent the people's will. It is possible for people to petition their government, but they would do so more frequently, and at a greater cost.

I cite the protests in my state of Wisconsin of Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, where tens of thousands of protesters marched on the capitol, [5]. While, regardless one's opinions on the subject, the people were exercising their right to petition, one cannot ignore the effects of the protests. The Madison Metropolitan School District had to cancel classes for nearly a week due to a lack of teachers. As well, Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest district in the state had to close for a day for the same reason, along with numerous other schools [6]. On top of all this, nearly half of the Wisconsin senate walked out, stalling any legislation on the bill for quite a while. I could list effects for much longer, but, suffice it to say, there were countless effects, mainly negative. Now, imagine similar situations appearing more frequently as a result of flawed surveying (as it's been proved to be), except on a nationwide scale. I believe that one can come to the conclusion that that would be undesirable.

Additional Arguments

The Survey System is Unnecessary

Pro's argument for a survey system is, mainly, that it best expresses the people's will on a politician. However, I submit that this system is unnecessary, in that the people's will is already expressed in the US through the elections of politicians. When a politician runs, he/she runs with a stance in mind on the key issues o the day. The people in a district hold an election and vote based on which candidate best represents what they want on the issues.This is how the people's will is expressed, in the electing of a representative itself. While, as Pro pointed out, there can be flaws in this system, it can be found that an election system simply has less room for error than a random sample survey system, effectively rendering a survey system useless and unnecessary.


My argument can, once again, be summed up in two contentions.

(P1) A survey system takes the opinions of far fewer people than elections.
(P2) With a survey system, demographics are easily left out of the polls.
(P3) There can and is bias in many opinion polls.
(C1) A survey system has more error than just elections.

(P1) A survey system has more error than just elections.
(P2) The effects of an error-filled survey system are undesirable.
(P3) Survey systems are unnecessary.

(C2) Survey systems should not be implemented.

Thank you, and again, I await Pro's response.


Debate Round No. 2


Response to Con

1) Error with Surveys
Certain properties and attitutdes of the population can be estimated by a survey method. Its not feasible to get everyone physically in a room to vote on all issues. The survey is less of a sample and more akin to an online voting system. Instead of voting on politicians, people vote on issues they support (or not) and the politician carries those ideas forth. The error resides in not having a representative sample of the population fill out the survey. This error can be mitigated by making the survey mandatory like the census, or raising public awareness. However, I want to stress that in a population of 1,000 people, one can survey a small fraction of the population and still get reliable results.

1a) Vote in Election vs Filling Out Survey
Voter turnout rates for 2010 were estimated to be roughly 60% for the 2008 presidential election. Many other election turn out rates are far lower. Although we have a democratic process for elections, not everyone exercises their right to vote. Further, election do not gather the opinion of everyone who votes. A fraction of the population gets "fit" into a political platform. There are only 2 major parties in the U.S. If the candidates from the two parties both want to keep a ban on certain energy drinks, there is no way to tell what the population at large wants. Perhaps the population wants to lift the ban. A scientific poll can achieve a higher level of accuracy in measuring the population's opinion at large. Polls can make a representative democracy more democratic.

Fact Check

1b) Coverage Bias and Exclusion
Phone surveys are not optimal. Online surveys work better. Everyone theoretically has access to the internet through home, work, public libraries, phones or even electronic stores that sell computers. Its a question of literacy more so than access to technology.

1c) The Shy Elephant Factor
No elephants must be shy. The surveys can be completed online. Your survey results and answers are not published, the answers are anonymous to others. We are not debating an exit poll. The shy elephant is a strawman argument. Its a misrepresentation of my position.

2) Surveys are Efficient
Surveys and opinion polls are used in many cases to form policy and guide politicians. Elections are nothing but surveys of the general population as not everybody votes. Its ironic that Con refers to an ITU survey "as of June 2010, 77.3% of the US population has access to, and uses, the internet" to make a case against surveys. Clearly ITU did not speak to everyone in the country, I never heard from them! Everyone has access to the internet and can be polled, but everyone must not be polled in order for the survey to accurately reflect public opinion. The effectiveness of online surveys should be left for another debate.

3) Not a Direct Democracy
In cases where surveys can be used, they should be used. The government must have the consent of the governed.

4) Surveys Would Enhance the Right to Petition
A survey enhances the Right to Petition for everyone that fills it out. Citizens get to express their opinions through polls and those polls are actually meaningful if the politician is obligated to carry them out. Its a real time right to petition, with action that back up the results.

I think Pro is confusing the right to gather signatures for a petition with the right to assemble and to protest. Wisconsin was a case of protesting and assembling at the capital building, not signing a formal petition to present to Governor Walker.

Scientific surveys should dictate how politicians vote in Congress. The techonology is in place and the mathematics behind surveys is well tested, frequently used and sound. There is no reason to exclude the voice of the people in the process when applicable. The US should ensure that we have a government of the people, by the people, for the people.


I once again thank SenorSwanky for his responses, as well as for giving the opportunity to debate such an interesting topic.

Response to Pro

1) Error with Surveys

In this section Pro does a bit of a turnaround on the methodology of his resolution. Throughout this debate he's insisted that the surveys would be a representative random sample, but now he changes his answer and says that they aren't a sample anymore. This lack of continuity in his argument shows the flimsiness of the resolution.

Pro says that voter turnout rates are low. I'm not sure whether he is implying that because the turnout is low, not many people's wills are expressed. If that statement is implying such an argument, I would have to, rather bluntly reply by saying that it's the non-voter's fault that their opinion wasn't tossed in with the vote. There are enough ways for a person's vote to be cast, including absentee ballots in case a person cannot be present at a vote, so that point, if it was there, is moot.

He then goes on to an example which is completely absurd. Pro gives us an example that, what if both the Republican and Democratic candidates for the legislature want to ban energy drinks, but the majority of the population says otherwise? The answer to that is clearly that this would not happen. If the majority of the population believes energy drinks should not be banned, then there would be at least one candidate that does not want to ban drinks that would make it through the primaries. Of course, there is the chance that the majority may not vote in the primaries before the election, but, as I said before, it would be the voter's responsibility to vote. The argument remains.

Here, Pro concedes to me that phone surveys are not optimal, and that internet surveys would be used. He then says that everyone theoretically has access to internet somehow. The problem with this statement is plain--while it is true that theoretically everyone has internet access, practically, many people do not, especially in rural areas. So, my statement still somewhat is true.

In this section, it is stated by Pro that we are not debating exit polls, all answers are anonymous to others, and that my argument is a strawman. What I find interesting about Pro's rebuttal is that it is actually a strawman in and of itself. My quote about the Shy Elephant Factor stated that conservatives are less likely "to participate in exit polls or other types of opinion polls over liberals," [1]. Clearly, my argument did still apply to surveys of the variety Pro is arguing for, and thus, the point still stands.

2) "Surveys are Efficient"

While it is true that polls are used quite a bit in making decisions about public policy, the difference is that they do not dictate public policy, they merely weigh in on it. I find it strange that Pro tries to make a case against my source by saying that it didn't poll everybody. Now, clearly this is not a debate about our sources, and although this seems like a non-sequitor, I feel that I must say that ITU most likely polled internet providers, not every single person that may/may not have internet. But I digress.

Then, Pro once again delivers the falsehood that everyone has access to the internet. Then after this, Pro states that not everyone needs to be polled to have an accurate survey. While this is true, what he's saying is another strawman. My argument was not that everyone must be polled, but that everyone must be able to be polled to have an accurate survey, so that it's possible for all demographics to be represented.

3) "Not a Direct Democracy"

Indeed I agree the government must have the consent of the governed, however there are already systems in place for this. This includes elections and all First Amendment rights granted by the Constitution. The survey system has simply too much room for error to be implemented.

4) "Surveys Would Enhance the Right to Petition"

Here, Pro says that the right to petition is enhanced for everyone that fills it out. The problem is though, as I said in the previous round, that the right to petition is not only enhanced for the people that fill out the surveys, but it's only enhanced for those who get to fill it out. The thousands of others' rights to petition aren't being enhanced!

I think that SenorSwanky misunderstands my argument. My argument is that, because the system is flawed, less people's opinions would be heard,and therefore, more incidents like the Wisconsin protests may arise wn a large portion of people's opinions aren't represented. Again, I'm not indicating that the protests were bad--it was actually a perfect example of our rights being excersised. What I was indicating though, is that there were many negative consequences of the protests. Ergo, many more negative consequences from other protests due to this faulty system could (and more than likely would) happen, and that is something that I believe we an all agree is undesirable.


I have proved that Pro's survey system is faulty at best, and I'd even go so far as to say that it's truly a broken system at worst. This system of his excludes demographics from being able to give their opinion fairly in a poll which would not just influence public policy making, but control it. On top of this, Pro has failed to adequately defend his resolution against my refutations. Thus, the resolution is negated.

So, I strongly urge a vote for Con, and thank you for reading.


[1] Please see link #3 in my round 2 references.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by SenorSwanky 5 years ago
Congrats DetectableNinja, thank you for taking the time to respond. It doesn't seem like there is much interest in voting for this debate. I am still convinced that voting on issues, rather than politicians, is the best way to move forward. Good ideas get squashed by party politics. And, like Google, one good idea put into action can be a game changer.
Posted by DetectableNinja 5 years ago
Excellent point. I wanted to raise the uneducated point, but for some reason I held back.
Posted by 000ike 5 years ago
The government must carry out the will of the people to an extent. How educated are the masses really on economy for example? The majority of people could believe the government should take a course of action that any educated economist would know would destroy the nations economy. A government is never 100% the manifestation of the will of the people. A good government, in a nation that will survive, must also learn to take charge and educate the people on why some of their requests may be counter productive to the results they want.It's my opinion that both pro and con are wrong, but pro more so for expanding on that premise to say scientific surveys should hence be what rules a country.
Posted by SenorSwanky 5 years ago
Yes, that is the argument. Assuming that a majority of the constituents (over 50%) vote one way on an issue, the politician should follow that vote and express it in Congress. Note that the U.S. has many Congressional districts, so you may have a vote different in Florida than California. I am not arguing for a direct democracy.
Posted by DetectableNinja 5 years ago
Before I argue, could you elaborate as to what the resolution is entailing?. Like, are you saying that, (for example,) if 51% of a politicians constituents want to raise the drinking age, then said politician/legislator must vote that way? Or something along those lines?
Posted by SenorSwanky 5 years ago
I must admit I am promoting a new idea in hopes that it catches on!
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Double_R 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro makes a case that centers on the concept of allowing online surveys to dictate the direction of our country, but then states that the effectiveness of online surveys should be left for another debate. Pro did not satisfy his BoP.