The Limits of Pollsters, Pundits and, Yes, Politics

By Jim Wallis 1-24-2008

This early primary election season has clearly demonstrated the limits of the pollster's predictions, the pundit's prognostications, and the ability of politics to really address our deepest problems.

The polls have gotten it wrong several times now. And the political commentators have wrongly told us what was going or not going to happen so many times that many have just stopped listening. Obama would never catch up to Clinton's inevitability - then he won Iowa. The Clinton dynasty was finished and Obama was about to march to the nomination on pure momentum and inspiration - then Clinton won New Hampshire. Edwards would be strong in the early primaries - quickly it was a two-person race between Obama and Clinton. McCain was pronounced dead this summer by all the political talking heads - now his staff calls him "Lazarus," with comeback victories in New Hampshire and Florida. Romney was finished after investing so much in Iowa and New Hampshire and losing - then he won the next two contests. Huckabee wasn't worth covering until two months ago - then he shocked the establishment by winning Iowa. But then he failed to win South Carolina, where his evangelical base is the strongest. Thompson was the re-incarnation of Ronald Reagan - until he "fizzled." Giuliani was the early frontrunner - until he wasn't anymore, but may be again if he wins Florida, or not.

Iraq was to be a big campaign issue, and then it faded. Health care was big early on but isn't so much now. Race and gender bickering recently broke out between the potential first woman and first black president. Now the fear of recession is the big issue and "It's the economy, stupid," all over again. Change beat experience early on but experience and competence have made a comeback. And ALL the pundits said the early front-loaded primary season would produce clear nominees by early February. Now they talk about what fun it would be for journalists to have nominations go all the way to the conventions. Maybe this is all about their fun.

But have the following issues been primary in this primary election season: the shameful scandal of global poverty and the embarrassment of a growing number of poor families in America; the increasingly urgent threat of global warming; the horrendous costs of the war in Iraq and the consequences of a foreign policy that relies exclusively on war to fight evil; the gross violations of human life in places like Darfur, the Congo, and Kenya; the need for a bi-partisan effort to dramatically reduce abortion rates; the corruption of the popular culture and its daily assault upon our families and children? Nope.

All this points again to the fact that real change will never begin in Washington nor be simply a top-down process. I live in the nation's capital and, believe me, this will be the last place change comes. But it has always been like that. Change will grow from social movements, from grassroots efforts that rush up, not trickle down, and from critical culture and values shifts that ultimately will affect politics. Awakening the faith community, for example, to the biblical vision of social justice and the moral imperatives to address poverty, creation care, human rights, culture renewal, and a better way to combat evil in the world will more likely lead to deeper change than mere lobbying on Capitol Hill.

That's why I am excited to begin a 20-city tour to talk about my new book, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in A Post-Religious Right America. The conversation at every stop will be about how real and deep change could happen in this country and around the world-and is already beginning to. And that change begins with our own lives, our congregations and communities, and the kind of social movements that do finally move politics. The book lays out not a laundry list of "issues" but rather a set of seven commitments that could lead to a "tipping point" on the greatest moral challenges of our time. Each of those seven chapters ends with "The Commitment" which describes what individuals and families can do, how congregations and community groups must lead, and then how changes in public policy must be the result.

It's a hopeful book, because I am very encouraged about what I see happening all over the country, despite the limits of politics already apparent in this early primary season. The Great Awakening describes the "revival" that is already occurring and could bring the change and the hope that so many people are clearly longing for in this critical election year and beyond. I hope this book gives you as much hope in reading it as I found in researching and writing it. It's the story of change from the bottom up-change that is a matter of faith.

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