Correspondence I – A poll about constitutional monarchies

Note from November 2007: This was originally posted on a blog of mine that was hosted on Blogger. I’ve since imported that blog over here to C Good’s Things on WordPress.

I belong to a number of Yahoo! groups. Many Yahoo! groups allow members of the group to compose their own on-line polls. One group I am on (an ostensibly APOLITICAL group, by the way) had a member recently post this poll:

Who thinks We should go to a Const. Monarcy?
o No, I am happy liven under this Gov. When the Head of the Gov. is
uneducated and not trained to Run a Coutry every Four Yrs.
o Yes, I would like it to go that way.
o I need to think about it.
o I do not Care
o What is a Cost. Mon.?

(Spelling errors & random capitalization not my fault, what is above is pasted directly from the poll.)

Below is my response, also posted on the group:

My opinion is that whoever wrote this poll needs to put more thought into how the poll questions are written & ordered.

1. The first option mentions the current U.S. system of government, but is phrased in a derogatory manner. Yes, it is possible to get a head of government who is uneducated and not trained to run the country, and it is possible to get that every four years. Our current system also allows other options, and that is considered to be the reason so many presidents were formerly governors, as opposed to senators (I think there have only been two presidential candidates who directly made the leap from senator to president, Kennedy was one and some 19th-century president was the other) — governors have at least had the experience of being the top executive officer of a state. And at least, if we get someone we don’t like, we have the option to change them for someone else after four years, and even if we’re stuck with them for four more years, we definitely won’t be stuck with them more than eight years. In a const. monarchy (not “monarcy”), the populace is stuck with the monarch until he or she steps down, is deposed, or dies, any of which can take a lot longer than 4-8 years. Which brings up my next point . . . .

2. In a const. monarchy, the monarch does have some say in government, but in many other ways is a figurehead. To my knowledge and in the case of England, it was not Queen Elisabeth nor Prince Charles who decided to fight with Argentina over the Falklands, contribute troops to the U.S. war in Iraq, raise or lower taxes, deal or not deal with Sinn Fein in Ireland, join the E.U., exchange the Pound for the Euro, or any other executive, legislative, or judicial aspect of ruling a country. Whoever occupies #10 Downing Street probably has a lot more say in all of those issues than the const. monarchs of England, and while the English Prime Minister can serve for a lot longer than U.S. presidents (I think both Thatcher and Blair served for over 10 years, and Blair may be approaching 16 years??), I fail to see what that would have to do with a const. monarchy. There may be other const. monarchies where the monarch has much more say in the running of the country, but the person composing the poll did not specify what type of constitutional monarchy the poll was referring to. The person composing the poll could have been referring to a const. monarch as a rich famous person whose life and whose family life the rest of the country avidly follows (some have argued the U.S. already has this in the Kennedy’s), they could have been referring to a const. monarch as someone whose person and whose family have long been involved in high-level politics across multiple generations (again, some would argue Kennedy’s, other would argue the Bushes, Bush 41 was head of the CIA and VP before becoming President, Bush 43 was governor of Texas before becoming President, W’s brother Jeb Bush is governor of Florida), or they could have been referring to a family who for many generations has been rich with a well-known name & who wields a lot of influence in the background (again, some would argue the U.S. already has this in some of the massive charitable foundations whose annual budgets can be in the millions or hundreds of millions of dollars, who at some times have been fairly active in social issues, and who have long well-established names like Ford, Rockefeller, and Pew).

3. Finally, the way the poll is written biases the answers. The current U.S. system is presented in a way that highlights only its inherent flaws, while the const. monarchy is present as an alternative option with no mention of its possible flaws — and let’s be clear: ALL forms of government have inherent flaws and weaknesses!!

There is a whole science & art to writing poll questions. There are issues with how the questions are ordered, how many possible answers you give to each question, how broad (or narrow) you make the questions, and even what terms you use. Poll questions like “do you think the country is going the right way”, “do you expect things to get better”, and “do you feel optimistic about the future” all look very similar, but can all get very different answers from the same people, because depending on which question you ask, your respondents may be telling you their feelings about (a) foreign policy, (b) domestic policy, (c) their expectations for their own life in the near future, (d) their expectations for their children’s and grandchildren’s lives, (e) all of the above, (f)some combination of the above, or (g) none of the above.

The way this particular poll is written, I can’t tell if the person writing it is trying to see how many people are dissatisfied with our current president, dissatisfied with our last few presidents, dissatisfied with our current form & organization of government, or if in fact the poll is a trick question to see how many people don’t catch on that const. monarchies are not necessarily all that great either and there is not enough detail specified in this question to give a good answer. There are A LOT of different ways a const. monarchy could be organized, some of which might be better and some of which might be worse than our current system, just like saying “the U.S. is a democracy” or even “the U.S. is a republic” leaves A LOT out. You can take another country that is a republic, you can even take another country that is a republic with two legislative houses, and STILL have huge differences between there and here depending on what membership in those legislative houses is based on, whether the country’s court system goes by common law or continental law, whether powers not enumerated in the original establishing document
are considered to automatically belong to the government, and a whole other long list of factors. So, describing an alternative form of government as a const. mon., or even a const. monarchy, really does not give me enough information to answer the question.

I’ll get off my soapbox now. I think the poll question itself is interesting, I just don’t like the vagueness and imprecision with which it is written. (And yeah, I’m as much a pain in the neck at work when someone gives me poorly written product or test specifications.)

-Camille

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