Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The unbearable uselessness of polls

Channeling my inner Andy Rooney tonight, there's too many damn polls. Almost every day, multiple polls are released with wildly varying results. Nearly everybody with a media microphone, new media and old, large or small hangs on the numbers as if they're some great portent of the future. Hell, you might as well use a Magic 8 Ball. It would be about as helpful.

It's not to say polls are entirely useless. Well written questions asked at judicious intervals are a good measure of the public pulse. I'm so old, I remember when most polls were conducted in such a manner. But we don't have that anymore. Like just about everything else, polling went from a profession to a profit seeking business.

Polling is a medium prone to easy manipulation of results to satisfy the client and all too many opportunists have cashed in on that business model. And seriously, what's the point? How does the daily reporting of public reaction serve the public interest? It certainly doesn't inform on the actual policy. Which leads to stories about confused voters like this:
Marcus Luckie, a 70-year-old retiree, agreed.

“You can’t believe whatever they say,” he said. “They all say the same thing about each other, saying each one as bad as the next. And these PACS are all paying for ads saying the same things, too.”

Where did that leave him?

“I ain’t decided on any of them yet,” he said, standing just outside of the door to the voting booth. “It’s going to be close my eyes and point today.”
Aggregate and graph a whole year's worth of polls. Better yet, make it five years. What will you find? The electorate is fickle as hell, given to emo outbursts and extremely susceptible to media hype.

Not sure how to fix that, but reasonably certain daily polling is not helping.

[Thanks to The Week for the name check. Appreciate the encouragement.]

[More posts daily at the Detroit News.]

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