In Public Opinion Quarterly 72:1 (the latest issue), Andrew Kohut reviews Sarah Igo’s (IMHO terrific) book The Averaged American. Predictably, Kohut likes the “good stories that are generally well told,” but complains that Igo fails to give credit to polls’ capacity to wrest control from elites and put it in the hands of “ordinary Americans.”
What Kohut doesn’t seem to grasp is the claim of performativity documented in Igo’s book. Igo argues that the advent of polling as a taken-for-granted representational mode produced a particular kind of public: precisely the kind that Kohut, well, takes for granted! Consider: “…key polling indicators–presidential approval, consumer confidence, party affiliation, and so on–play [a role] in providing an ongoing, objective record of the national mood….” Who knew there was a national mood?
The final paragraph of Kohut’s review I find particularly interesting given my interest in the aesthetics of political representation:
…perhaps Igo’s concerns… just might be assuaged if she were to assemble and analyze the overall results of all questions from the national media polls on a major contemporary topic such as Iraq. She would see how just nuanced and textured a portrait they paint of American thinking…. she would realize that Dr. Gallup’s aspirations to give voice to the people were being realized.
Myself, I doubt if Igo would be so delighted, but I could be wrong. More importantly, pure representationalism in portraiture hasn’t been in vogue for centuries; nuanced and textured portraits are creative, not transparently representational!