By John Nienstedt, Founder and President of Competitive Edge Research & Communication.
Wasteful government spending, the kind of stuff citizens call “pork,” doesn’t have a specific definition. But constituents aren’t ever shy about pointing the finger at pork. They are confident they know it when they see it. Groups like Citizens Against Government Waste compile reports like its annual “Pig Book,” naming 123 examples of outrageous earmarks, even though Congress claims it doesn’t use earmarks anymore.
Canada’s Marketing Research and Intelligence Association published a study quoting Canadian policy and political experts who believe it’s important for the federal government to consult with Canadians and relevant stakeholders when making decisions. Public opinion research (POR) is a cost-effective consultative tool to do this. The study also suggests government decision-making can be improved through data and information provided by research. Relying on real-life data to make decisions, imagine that! The study also finds lack of public consultation can contribute to civic disengagement, political apathy and cynicism.
Dubious government research studies lead many lists of pork barrel spending projects. No one wants his or her government organization’s name attached to anything sizzling like bacon.
But as the Canadian study found, government agencies need solid information from the public to help guide their decisions. What wasn’t mentioned in this study is the potential to save money, a priority for many taxpayers and an expectation placed on their government officials.
Let’s use the example of placing a bond measure on the ballot. If a bond measure is destined to go down in flames with voters, it would be smart to know this before spending a few million dollars on the due diligence and preparation necessary to put the measure on the ballot.
Loading up the ballot with marginal measures costs state taxpayers additional money just to conduct the election. In June 2016, the California state Senate’s budget committee voted to allocate $16.3 million in additional election spending to help defray costs of conducting the upcoming election by local officials. Secretary of State Alex Padilla warned legislators more money would be needed. The California ballot may contain as many as 18 separate measures on the November 8 statewide ballot. This doesn’t include local county or municipal measures.
“We The People” want government to listen to us (not to be confused with listening in on us). Listening to us should be approached in a methodical, rigorous, and balanced way. The information gathered from citizens should be reviewed and taken to heart when making decisions to spend money on their behalf. This is my viewpoint not only as a professional researcher but also as a citizen and especially as a business owner who doesn’t want his tax dollars wasted on bad ideas based on bad information.
Government spending money without a good reason is a bad idea. Every government official should be happy to defend any decision to invest $50,000 in public opinion research if it prevents a million-dollar mistake. This is the kind of positive return on investment I call “good government.” No pork in sight.