Many Republicans, and even some others (such as Mr. Burka) have complained that Democrats are acting feisty on the wrong side of public opinion. But this is not a really good argument against Democrats for two different reasons. First, there is no very good way to know public opinion on the issue right now. Second, American tradition is not to listen to public opinion regarding the efficacy of democracy.
First Point: There is no very good way to know public opinion of the Voter ID issue right now. Proponents of Voter Suppression who point to public opinion point to the February-March poll by the University of Texas's Texas Politics Series, which found significant support for “voters should be required to present a government-issued photo id at the polls before they can be allowed to vote.” The problem is, they don't really know about the issue. As Katherine pointed out yesterday, “we already have voter identification,” it simply is not a strict photo identification. And many voters do not know that. When asked about their knowledge of the law in the same poll, 42% incorrectly stated that there is already Voter ID law and another 9% were not confident enough to answer. That's a majority of Texans who do not understand the issue!
In the Spring of 2008, I took a Public Opinion class at the University of Texas by Daron Shaw, someone I consider to be a very knowledgeable pollster. (Oh, Fox News thinks he is good, too.) He taught that polls are not necessarily a reliable barometer for public opinion if the voters were not knowledgeable on the topic. To quote from my notes: “Shaw thinks that if it something people haven't really thought about and cared about, than there really is no public opinion that is valid on it.”
This is one reason that Democrats are not falling line and file behind the February-March poll. The only voters who have really “thought and cared about” Voter ID are a small amount of very politically active Republicans and Democrats. The majority of voters, who are not very politically active, have not thought much on the issue.
But there is a second point, too: Even if public opinion is clearly against Democrats, public opinion is not a judge of the efficacy of democracy. This is why the founding fathers sat in a room and discussed the Constitution alone, and then they made the Bill of Rights. True, state legislatures had to accept the Constitution, but it was not put to a referendum! If public opinion was followed when making decisions about Democracy, the Civil Rights Era would be nothing more than a footnote in our textbooks — there would be no major Civil Rights Act!
The Democratic Party is the party that championed the Civil Rights Act under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, and we will continue to support civil rights whether or not public opinion “agrees” with us. The reason for this is because civil rights — specifically VOTING rights — are not up for a vote.
So, to recap. We cannot really trust any polls on Voter ID because there is no thoughtful and informed public opinion on the issue. Even if there was, this is a voting rights issue; and voting rights are not up for vote.