From "What Voters Want" by David Winston in the June and July issue of Policy Review:
Leading means more than just taking a position. It means listening closely to what people have to say. In the past few years, dictates of ideology have led political operatives, especially Republicans, to disdain polling. Democrats, by contrast, have listened to public opinion because they want to understand the complex interaction of many proposals on issues and how the public feels about them. For Democrats, polls have been strategic tools that give them the ability to understand and better communicate with the electorate and make the all-important connection to voters' personal concerns. . . .
Recently, we have heard Republicans saying, "I don't listen to polls. I do what I think is right." Since polling is the process of understanding what Americans think, a rewording of that statement might be: "I don't listen to Americans. I do what I think is right." Or at least that's what many Americans think they're saying. . . .
Polls don't replace principles or ideas. They are tools, like television advertising or direct mail, that help candidates and parties communicate better with voters. In an ideological world, they were important in measuring party and ideological affiliation, the strength of ideas and political progress. In [today's] more personalized political culture, they are essential to understanding how to make the connection between political positions and voters' personal concerns. Never has public opinion been more important or more difficult to discern.