I was having an intense conversation with a friend yesterday, in which she expressed fear that Trump’s approval ratings are going up.
I tried to reassure her. “You can’t trust polls,” I said.
I forgot to tell her the lesson I learned from the original British “House of Cards.” (I haven’t watched the American version so don’t know if the scene I’m about to relate appears in it, too.)
The original “House of Cards,” starring the perfectly wonderful, slimy, sexily evil Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart, had several sequels. In the second, “To Play the King,” Urquhart has finagled and, yeah, murdered his way to becoming Prime Minister. He retains a brilliant (and beautiful) pollster, Sarah Harding, as an advisor.
The scene embedded in my brain: Urquhart (pronounced “Irkit,” in case you want to read this out loud), is having political problems. If I remember correctly, they’re due to his government’s racist policies about which protests and riots have sprung up. His popularity is fading fast.
What to do? He might have to dissolve his government and call for elections. But Sarah has another idea. “We’ll do a poll,” she says.
“But won’t the results be bad for me?” Urquhart argues.
“Oh no,” says Sarah. Slyly. “Getting the results we want depends entirely on the questions we ask.”
It might seem that our government is determined by polls, sort of like phoning in to vote for reality TV show contestants.
But it isn’t. Despite all the anxious noise, our government(s) are still determined by regularly scheduled elections.
Equally, when Rudy Giuliani pumps up the Trump base (and I think emphasizing the word “base” is in order here) against the Mueller investigation, the poll numbers following the Rudy pump are equally meaningless.
Pollsters determine the results of the polls by the questions they ask of a pre-selected group whom, depending on the questions, they can agitate (or calm).
In real life we determine our government by the fact of our votes.
Investigations about criminal activities are determined by the facts they produce — the evidence, the hard evidence. And the only people who get to review and vote on that evidence are presiding judges, grand jurors and trial jurors.
I know, I know. It’s a grave disappointment that we don’t get to dial a 900 number and vote on whether Trump should be indicted or exonerated and hailed as our Dear Leader. But that’s not the way a major investigation works.
And do remember: no matter what small increments up or down Trump’s polls display, his base is in the minority and will always be.