Approval Ratings, Popularity Polls and Other Lies

A growing segment of American society seems to think that “approval ratings” are the supreme standard of performance measurement for public figures. Some would even go so far as to use “approval ratings” as a sort of moral standard. According to these folks, if the “public” says that they “approve” of an individual who has committed acts that were once considered wrong, it can be concluded that the acts are actually quite acceptable and even desirable. It’s an interesting theory, but in real practice it falls flat on it’s oh-so-popular face.

The old saying that “figures lie and liars figure” has never been more true than when considering the dynamics of public opinion surveys. Samples as small as a few hundred people can suddenly become a major national trend. Some of the Presidential “approval rating” surveys use samples as small as 500 people. If the pollsters have even a slight bias, the poll results can easily be slanted by simply choosing the survey sample properly.

For example, a poll could state that it surveyed “500 Baptists”—but 500 moderate Southern Baptists would respond quite differently than 500 conservative Independent Baptists. Just pick the sample that best supports your agenda, word your questions just right, and voila—you can make it look like your agenda is the most popular thing in Baptist churches since heated indoor baptistries.

Ask the same question in a blue-collar neighborhood, and then in an upwardly-mobile white-collar suburb, and you have two different sets of responses—just choose the one you like best, and keep the other out of circulation. Now, release your carefully-targeted “research” to the press, along with a few well-staged public appearances featuring what seems like endless crowds cheering on your cause. With the help of a few sympathetic (or ignorant) newsfolks, soon the American public will start to believe that your cause is right, your leader walks on water, and your opponents are direct descendants of the devil himself. Properly executed, this strategy can make the sleaziest of scoundrels seem like saints, as long as the public is gullible enough to believe the lie. It’s a technique skillfully applied by political “spin doctors” every day.

Jesus had an interesting perspective on popularity. He didn’t really care about it. Jesus proclaimed the truth, without compromise, whether the people liked it or not. His message didn’t change based on “approval ratings” or other feedback—the truth is still the truth, whether you “approve” of it or not. Jesus understood that standing firm for the truth is a more difficult road to travel, and he taught that principle to His disciples. In Matthew 10, Jesus sent out twelve men to preach the Gospel in the cities and towns of Israel. Part of His instructions to them were:

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” (Matt 10:14-15, NNAS)

Jesus did NOT give them an option to soften the message, or to augment or modify it to make it more popular with the people. Later in the same chapter, He even warns them that they will be persecuted and prosecuted because of their message, and even then He does not offer an optional alternative message that would be more popular. Jesus loved the people too much to pander to their selfish desires—He loved them enough to tell them the real truth, without any “spin,” even if it made them uncomfortable. Genuine love always tells us what we NEED to hear, rather than what we WANT to hear.

Jesus understood the false nature of artificial “approval ratings” and other popularity polls. In fact, He even told us that excess popularity might be a sign of trouble:

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. (Luke 6:26, NNAS)

Popularity is not in and of itself bad. False popularity, like false prophecy, is a lie—and sooner or later, the lie will come back to extract it’s due from the liar. Eventually, it will consume them.

“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.” (James 3:14, NNAS)

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