No polls, please

With opinion polls painting a thoroughly gloomy picture of the Socialists’ electoral prospects, ruling PASOK cadres are in turmoil. Having thrust public opinion surveys into the heart of politics, the administration of Costas Simitis is now hostage to impressions that it has itself cultivated. Government ministers are resorting to comical sophistries, and other dubious methods, in an attempt to either deny the obvious or to extract as positive a picture as possible for PASOK – to the point of pressuring pollsters to depict an improvement in the government ratings. Poll findings are manipulated, people are presented with fake dilemmas – all this in a relentless struggle to make an impression. It is a shame that in our political system politics revolves not around the platforms of the rival parties but around opinion poll findings instead. Rather than having politicians generating policies whose effectiveness and acceptance is rated by citizens through opinion surveys, we have the exact opposite. Politics has become so anemic that the exploitation of opinion polls for PR reasons automatically becomes a major political event that invites feuding between Greece’s main political parties. This habit not only distorts reality and degrades civic life. Above all, it reflects the inability of politicians to communicate with the people and underscores the fact that the political elite has become alienated from the people and therefore seeks to substitute direct contact with brainwashing. Ultimately, this situation undermines the foundations of our democracy, as politics ends up concentrating not on the issues that concern the public or issues that are picked by our – elected and accountable – leaders, but rather focuses on those issues which interest those who pay a small group of pollsters. The Simitis administration is largely responsible for the degeneration of politics and, therefore, lacks the moral credentials to remedy it – even now that the situation has turned against it. In a self-destructive fashion, the government insists on viewing reality through rose-tinted spectacles, deeming that the over-promotion of Simitis as the most suitable prime minister is enough to cause New Democracy’s 7.8-percentage-point lead over PASOK in opinion polls to evaporate. The government has every right to believe that it can avoid an electoral defeat. But it could spare itself from adding to its sorry political performance – which will in all likelihood deprive it of victory – with a further trivialization of politics, as it is doing now in its handling of the opinion poll issue.