Majority rule in our democratic republic is more complicated than we like to think.
For one thing, our particular form of government carves out matters that are specifically insulated from what the Founders called the “passions of the majority”–the individual liberties enumerated and “reserved to the people” by various provisions of the Bill of Rights. For another, in those areas where majority opinion is supposed to count, our mechanism for determining what a majority of citizens really wants is the vote–and not every citizen entitled to cast a vote does so. (The differences between what popular majorities want and what gets enacted can often be seen by comparing polling and survey research with legislation passed by victorious candidates.)
And don’t get me started on the Electoral College.
Then there’s the distortion regularly provided by media–very much including Twitter and Facebook, etc. We too often assume that the loudest and most persistent voices reflect the opinion of majorities–and that is not a well-founded assumption.
Take, for example, the issue of vaccine mandates.
A recent report by the Brookings Institution’s William Galston suggests that requiring vaccination is a lot more popular than we might imagine if we only listened to the hysterical purveyors of misinformation and conspiracy theories. (Recently, those vaccine deniers were accurately–if intemperately–labeled “assholes” by the Mayor of West Lafayette, Indiana. I don’t know him, but I’m pretty sure I’d really like him.)
Galston did a deep dive into the data. Not surprisingly, he found that unvaccinated Americans were less concerned about COVID than those who’d had the sense to get vaccinated.
In the face of massive evidence to the contrary, more than half of unvaccinated adults regard getting vaccinated as a bigger risk to their health than is getting infected with the coronavirus. Only one in five of the unvaccinated say that the spread of the delta variant has made them more likely to get vaccinated. These data do not support hopes that the recent outbreak will suffice to increase vaccination rates enough to bring the pandemic under control.
The data also reflects surprisingly robust support for vaccine mandates.
Since the beginning in March 2020, government’s response to the pandemic has occasioned intense controversy, much of it along partisan lines. Although the level of conflict remains high, recent events have solidified public support for the most intrusive policy government can undertake—mandatory vaccinations. According to a survey conducted by the Covid States Project, 64% of Americans now support mandatory vaccinations for everyone, and 70% support them as a requirement for boarding airplanes. More than 6 in 10 say that vaccinations should be required for K-12 students returning for in-school instruction as well as for college students attending classes at their institutions. And the most recent Economist/YouGov survey found that more than 60% support mandatory vaccinations for frontline workers—prison guards, police officers, teachers, medical providers, and the military—and for members of Congress as well…
“Solid majorities of every racial and ethnic group support vaccine mandates, as do Americans at all levels of age, income, and education.
The data also supports the growing recognition by sane Americans that the GOP has devolved into a cult of anti-science, anti-evidence, crazy folks: Only 45% of Republicans support vaccine mandates, compared to 84% of Democrats.
When I sent my children to school, I was required–mandated– to provide evidence that they’d been vaccinated, and thus did not threaten the health and safety of the other children with whom they would be taught. When I was young myself, Americans lined up with gratitude to receive the polio vaccine that would allow them to avoid the alternatives–death, or imprisonment in iron lungs.
When providing for “the General Welfare” requires rules–mandates– a majority of us understand that such mandates not only do not infringe our liberties, but actually give us more liberty–allowing us to go about our daily lives without the danger of infection (or the need to wear a mask).
Vaccine mandates are supported by medical science, by law, by morality, and by a majority of Americans. We periodically need to remind ourselves that “loudest” doesn’t equate to “most”–and that a fair number of the hysterical people shouting about “personal freedom” can’t define it and don’t want their neighbors to have it.