Majority of Oklahoma voters polled believe that legislators’ principles come second to giving the people in their district what they want.

Respondents were asked to indicate the direction and intensity of their feelings using a seven-point , where one means that the respondents strongly believe that “legislators should try their hardest to give the people in their district what they want” and one means respondents strongly believe that “legislators should stick to their principles, no matter what.”  The first statement is defined as a ‘delegate’ representative role, and the latter is a ‘trustee’ representative role.

The poll found that 57.1 percent supported  the extreme delegate role, that lawmakers should serve the district, with 41.9% indicating intense support for the delegate representative. Just 29.1 percent indicated preference for the trustee role, with only 12 percent having an intense  preference for the trustee.  Just 10.8% expressed no preference.

“When one looks at the general political environment in Oklahoma, the rhetoric of politicians, you’d think everyone wanted a trustee,” Keith Gaddie, vice president of SoonerPoll, said. “However, the reality is that a solid majority of Oklahomans prefer someone who represents the district.”

Gaddie went on to mention that district preferences over following principle has been one of the great criticisms of American political  leadership for the last two decades. “Despite the criticism, voters say they want someone who represents local views rather than elite judgment,” Gaddie said.

SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, commissioned and conducted the scientific study using live interviewers by telephone of 508 likely voters from Jan. 24 – Feb. 3. The study has a margin of error of ± 4.35 percent.

When respondents were called, the following statement preceded the explanation of the scale: “Some people believe that legislators should listen carefully to the people in their district, and try their hardest go give them the policies they want. Other people believe that Legislators are chosen to lead, based on their values, and should stay true to those values, no matter what the polls might say.”

Further analysis finds there is little variation between Republican’s opinions and Democrat’s opinions on this issue.  In fact 57.2 percent of both Republicans and Democrats choose the delegate role for their lawmaker.

“This result defies the Tea Party rhetoric of the GOP,” noted Gaddie. “At the end of the day, most voters regardless of party do not want  principled leadership so much as they want leadership that does what they ask. You can’t be a delegate and also exercise principle, except when it is convenient. Principled leaders who defy the constituency get beat for reelection.”

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  1. Unfortunately too many of Oklahoma’s new legislators have blurred the two roles. Last week I watched a legislator fighting back tears on the House floor, because he was convinced that his constituents elected him to permit Oklahomans 18 or older to open carry without a permit. The entire time that I’m watching the debate, I’m thinking “I wonder if this legislator or his constituents have thought about who everyone actually includes–it includes the people that they are afraid of. There are many people they are afraid of that don’t have criminal records; people who will also have weapons strapped on their hips. What a world we live in. We need strong leadership–a blend of the two, sometimes we don’t think through to the consequences of what we think we want.

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