Republicans these days don't seem to think much of public-opinion polls.
With a strong majority of Americans still opposed to the impeachment of President Clinton, some prominent Republicans are arguing that Congress should do what it thinks is right, not what the polls say."Poll-taking is an art, not a science," Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said.
Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Texas) was more direct: "I think, frankly, the polls are a joke."
Dan Quayle, the former vice president, sees a subtext.
"I think that the people are far more turned off with Bill Clinton and all of his shenanigans than all of these public-opinion polls are expressing," he said in August.
But Republicans should not shoot the messenger. After all, polls do nothing more than summarize the opinions of the people.
In a democratic society, ignoring the polls demonstrates a considerable arrogance. Why should we assume that pundits and elected officials know more than the average American or that careful, scientific polls don't accurately measure public sentiment?
There is no doubt that Americans want Congress to listen to them. In a Gallup survey conducted last month, 63 percent of those surveyed said that, on the question of the possible impeachment of Clinton, members of Congress should stick closely to public opinion, rather than doing what they themselves think is best.
And to date, Americans do not want the president to leave office. Even after the release of the Starr report and of Clinton's videotaped testimony, the number of Americans who approve of the job Clinton is doing is 66 percent, according to a Gallup poll. Only 32 percent of respondents favored impeaching and removing Clinton from office, while 39 percent said that he should resign.
The results were similar in other polls. In a recent NBC News poll, only 26 percent of respondents believed the president was telling the truth, but 60 percent did not believe the president should resign.
It is certainly possible that the public can still be convinced that impeachment is the correct course. That's what happened during Watergate: In November 1973, only 30 percent of Americans favored impeaching and forcing Richard Nixon from office. By August 1974, just before Nixon resigned, more than 50 percent favored such action.
The job for those who feel Clinton should leave office is to take those convictions to the public and to continue to make that case.
Ultimately, however, Congress should listen to the public's response - much of it measured through polling.