I’m back on the polling treadmill and I can’t get off

Yeah, that’s a confession.

Indeed, I’m so captivated by polls, a whole chapter in my book, How I Learned The Facts of Life, is devoted to them:

10 Polls are not facts. They’re not opinions, either.

During political campaigns, I am devoted to polls.

Nothing to do with collecting facts and/or reassurance and/or counting dark clouds. Everything to do with the power of ritual.

When I wish to feel like a smartypants insider, I justify my poll-watching by sending donations to politicians whose poll numbers suggest they could use my $10 or $25 boost.
But, mostly, polls are my pagan way of feeling grounded by hard numbers. Which polls, of course, are not.

I don’t waste time following or getting agitated over individual pollsters. Nate Silver’s 538.com does a spectacularly complicated analysis of pollsters and comes up with poll numbers incorporating adjustments which aim at a reasonably acceptable number.

But polls are hazardous to the health of anyone who clings to them as gospel, or who – heaven forfend – votes according to them. (You don’t do that, right? Right?)

Online “polls” aren’t polls; they’re bait, fishing for contributions.

And there’s a recent development: fake polls.

As both DailyKos Elections and 538.com have reported, some brand new “pollsters” have entered the arena with odd numbers for some electoral districts, but with little or no information about the pollster or the polls.

A March 5, 2018 DailyKos Elections post noted:

All the way back in August [2017], Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight took a look at some headline-grabbing “surveys,” like a poll from Delphi Analytica that ostensibly showed Kid Rock leading Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow 30-26. No one had ever heard of Delphi Analytica before then, and there was little information about them on their website (which is no longer operative). But that didn’t stop several outlets from writing stories on it, or from Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott from excitedly tweeting it out.

Delphi Analytica was a fake.

Kid Rock – whose real name is Robert James Ritchie – did not run against Debbie Stabenow; nor did he beat Debbie Stabenow. A GOP-er named John James ran against her. Stabenow won 52.3 percent of the vote. (John James is running again, this time against Democratic Senator Gary Peters; James remains down at least 5 points.)

This particular fakery suggests that someone somewhere thinks that people might be swayed to vote by polls.

My favorite truth (not fact but “truth”) about polls came from the second season of the original British House of Cards, called To Play the King. (I’ve never seen the American version.)

The scene I’m about to sketch provides a dramatic definition of push polls, which less dramatically were defined thusly by Marjorie Connelly in a June 2014 New York Times:

“Push polls” — which are not really polls at all — are often criticized as a particularly sleazy form of negative political campaigning. Voters pick up the phone to hear what sounds like a research poll. But there is no effort to collect information, which is what a legitimate poll does.

The questions are skewed to one side of an issue or candidate, the goal being to sway large numbers of voters under the guise of survey research.

So let’s go to the To Play The King video:

Prime Minister Francis Urquhart is in serious political trouble. His (conservative) policies, antagonistic to social concerns, are blamed for a gas explosion in a poor London neighborhood, to which he has provided no meaningful response. Thus, his party’s approval ratings are plummeting. An electoral upset now clouds his skies.

The heretofore unflappable, i.e., soulless, PM is actually concerned – probably because there’s no obvious single person who endangers him and whom, ergo, he can have eliminated. That is, killed. Which is his bottom-line M.O.

So he sits in his office with Sarah, his beautiful and brilliant Oxbridge pollster and adviser, darkly contemplating the immediate future. Sarah has a solution: “We’ll do a poll,” to demonstrate that the people support him.

But, the PM worries, what if the poll results show the opposite – that he has lost support?

Oh, they’ll get the results they want, Sarah reassures him breezily. Because the poll results depend entirely on the questions they’ll ask.

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