LEADERS must know what their people are thinking. If France's Charles de Gaulle or Columbia's Grayson Kirk had followed that simple rule, they might have saved themselves a lot of grief. Therein lies the chief justification for opinion polls. Yet there is also something vaguely troubling about the polls, those incessant readings of the U.S. voter's psyche.

The classic demagogue swayed the crowd through oratory. Polls sometimes suggest a kind of demagogy in reverse: the crowd seems to sway the politicians through the polls. One expects those who seek high office to speak out with courage and conviction, to teach the people,...

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