The more we practice living more consciously, the more conscious we become of beliefs. All it typically takes is a few steps down this path before someone exclaims, “I didn’t even know I believed that!” It is often the act of hearing it uttered by someone else that makes us suddenly conscious, in that moment, of something we have believed unconsciously. We realize, aha, that our chronic string of bad relationships is actually the result of our previously-unconscious belief that relationships are hard. So we change our belief and we change our experience.
This is also when we start to hear beliefs all the time — again, out of the mouths of others. It’s OK, it’s part of learning. We may not yet be fully conscious of everything we are believing, but we have no problem calling out Grandma when she talks about something she just “can’t do,” like ride the mechanical bull at the bar. “That’s a belief!,” we taunt, feeling all superior but guess what? Grandma don’t care. She doesn’t want to ride the bull and throwing shade about beliefs just comes across as judgment. Again, part of learning.
When it comes to conscious politics, our finely-tuned ears — able as they are to hear the unspoken belief(s) undergirding what a person is saying or doing — can get us into trouble because we can’t ever really know what another is believing until and unless they tell us. Thus, in the public sphere, we do a lot of surmising. The autocrat in Russia prosecuting his war in Ukraine must believe that might makes right, that war is the answer, that human life is disposable. It sure seems that way, but telling someone what they believe is judgment, asking is compassion. So if someone would get that fucker on the phone, I will compassionately ask him what he believes about what he’s doing over there right now. It’s vital information for conscious politics practitioners to have.
Conscious politics also encourages all of us to be more fluent in talking about politics at the level of belief. As we do, judgment dials down, clarity emerges, and our political discourse elevates.
Which brings us to what happens when our ears are tuned to hearing beliefs but there are no beliefs to hear. NBC reported last week that “just 40% of Americans [are] approving of the job” the president is doing. Fair enough, but who are the people? What do they believe? It’s an important question because, for example, more than 40% of Americans also believe Joe Biden is an illegitimate president, not duly elected, exercising stolen power. So what percentage of respondents to the survey — about his approval ratings — have this belief? (We don’t know.) What percentage of respondents in any survey believe Earth is flat? That America is a White, Christian nation? A beacon of democracy? A haven for immigrants? A bastion of entrepreneurial spirit? A place where we don’t say gay? This data would help us understand why people tell pollsters what they tell them.
Many years ago I worked in consumer research — designing, fielding, and analyzing quantitative research studies, which is what political polling is. I love (good) polling and, to be sure, the field has evolved. Gone, for example, are the days of only talking to people who haven’t been polled in a year or more; now we have panels wherein the same people are polled repeatedly on a range of subjects. Gone are the days of talking exclusively to people with telephone landlines; now we poll people who only have mobile phones, no problem. Now we poll people online, too, in numerous ways. All good. But what hasn’t seemed to evolve is how we screen the people we’re polling — how we decide whom to poll.
I looked under the hoods of two polls the mainstream media ecosystem was bloviating about last week and found the usual stuff:
• A CBS News/YouGov poll — specifically about Russia/Ukraine — screened respondents as follows: “This U.S. News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between March 22 - 25, 2022…weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as news interest and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes).”
• An NBC News/Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies poll about who does/doesn’t approve right now of President Biden’s job performance (plus other issues)…screened its respondents by: gender, age, whether they identified as Hispanic or Latino, whether or not they were registered to vote. Questions were also asked about being vaccinated and/or boosted for covid and political party affiliations.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these screens except, if you ask me, they are incomplete. To wit: in my lifetime, trust in government has gone from a high of 77% of Americans who “trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time” to 24% today. Before cable TV and certainly before the internet, most of us operated from the same news and information, shared some fundamental beliefs, and agreed to basic facts. Politics, then, was about debating our various interpretations of those things and arguing about what to do about them. Everyone knows that ship has long since sailed and that we are living in an entirely different world. Everyone, perhaps, but pollsters.
We stipulate in conscious politics that every single one of us has the right to believe whatever we believe. Conscious politics also encourages all of us to be more fluent in talking about politics at the level of belief. As we do, judgment dials down, clarity emerges, and our political discourse elevates. So for as long as so many of us are believing so many different things about our country, pollsters must report much more about the belief systems of their respondents in their surveys. Without that data, the American citizenry will be woefully under-informed and hobbled in its ability to judge the veracity of any of it.
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