At Large : Everyone agrees with me
Spurred by the need to be persuasive, you've probably resorted to the me-and-my army-of-like-minded-souls approach. Speaking to your wife, this rhetorical flourish may be as simple as, "I spoke with everyone we know, and they agree that I look good in this mustard color shirt." I'm sure you've used the device at crucial moments, as in, "None of my friends even likes movies with Anne Hathaway in them."
Or, you might try, Everyone likes baseball, nobody wants to watch figure skating. Or, Everyone says that In and Out Burgers are the best, and we should have one here. Everyone agrees that all these warnings about cholesterol are just hysterical nonsense.
Then there is the opposite approach. No one believes that wind farms will discourage tourists. No one agrees with your outdated, regressive notion that the Beatles were the sensation you think they were.
In the domestic theater, this sort of presumptive approach to debate, where you arm yourself with a legion of invisible supporters who share your view on whatever the topic is and discount the view advanced by the significant other, generally gets you nowhere. That's because your disputant knows all about the technique and has used it herself (or himself, as the case may be). It's valued as it deserves to be. That is it's assigned no value at all. Both sides use the tactic, neither side puts any stock in it. And, although it is, in fact, a downright lie, no one says so.
That helps to explain why political leaders, even community leaders, use it often. They know it isn't true, and they know no one else thinks it's true, so it's a no-harm, no-foul situation. It isn't a lie if everyone knows it's not true, or so the thinking goes. That's why you hear, Americans think the Democrats' health care plan will be good for them. Or, we know from the polls that Americans have rejected Obamacare.
It may also be the case that political leaders are deluded. To presume the way these gaseous mountebanks do that onlookers see in them the immense good sense, intellectual penetration, and common decency that they ascribe to themselves certainly suggests a vast capacity for delusion. But whether it's a winking acknowledgement that they are spouting nonsense and we know it, or a profound lack of self-awareness, politicians are confident that they will not be charged with a lie. In their world, that's a get out of jail free card.
A word about polls, because in public life polls are often at the heart of this big-tent debate strategy. Meaningful polling means asking carefully conceived questions, unbiased by wording or order, of a carefully composed, scientifically random sample of people, whose collective view one hopes to understand. In that collection of attributes there are countless pitfalls. How should the questions be worded? How should they be ordered? Should they be done in face-to-face interviews by trained interviewers? Or by phone? How should the sample be composed? How many of each class within the universe of interviewees must be reached?
Polling instruments left on the counter at Cumberland Farms or mailed to everyone who lives in Chilmark, or to everyone who lives on Martha's Vineyard, or to every one of 130 million or so American households, or inserted in the weekly newspaper will not produce a random sample, or scientifically reliable results. They will not produce results on which decision makers should make expensive, life changing decisions - that is, unless they prefer governing by whimsy and illusion. The results from such polling may be interesting, thrilling even, but they cannot be reliable. The results will not yield information sufficient to affirm a judgment that this, or this, or that is what Chilmarkers, or Islanders, or Americans think or want. Indeed, they will not even confirm a judgment that this is what Chilmarkers, Islanders, or Americans thought at that moment in time when they scribbled their answers to the questionnaire.
At the same time, and despite the difficulty associated with polling and the misuse of polling techniques, polling results, no matter how or for what purpose they are gathered, do provide politicians, pundits, and planners the nourishment they need to say to you, and to me, Everyone thinks this.