Polls given too much credence

Tim Paluch

“A recent poll revealed that 65 percent of people have never been polled, until recently.”

β€” George Carlin

Polls, polls, polls. I despise polls. I really have a deep-rooted hatred for them. And yet, they surround me. I can’t shake them. I have recurring nightmares where I am being chased by villainous clans of demographic trends. I have another where I am trapped in a margin of error, with seemingly no way out. I wake up in cold sweats, struggling to breathe, mumbling something indistinguishable about “likability” and “tracking numbers.” Not the most frightening, but pretty disturbing none the less.

Polls should not play as large a role in the presidential election process as they appear to be doing these days. Polls are good for showing whether people prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter, or who the father of Hope’s baby should be on “Days of Our Lives,” but are not good for deciding your vote upon.

There are just so many of those damn things. CNN/Gallup, ABCNews, FoxNews, Zogby/Reuters, the list goes on and on. Dubya had double-digit leads in some polls last week, and the press said the election was over. The undecideds had made up their minds. Dubya thought the election was his, as evident by his perm-a-smirk the entire weekend. And yet this Monday, with no major happenings over the weekend, Al had slipped back within the magical margin of error. Momentum appears to have shifted back in Tweedle-dum’s corner again, at least for a couple of days. The only poll staying somewhat consistent appears to be the little-known Daily Paluch poll, which is basically me asking myself who I would vote for at various times of the day. Ralph Nader has continued to add onto his large lead, getting just over 80 percent, with Lion-O, fearless and underestimated leader of the Thundercats, pulling in about 15 percent, despite not yet declaring his candidacy. Al and Dubya continue to hover just beneath the 1 percent mark. Margin of error is roughly plus or minus 96 percent.

These media generated polls are ridiculous. At one point in September, the CNN/Gallup poll had Gore up 7 percent. The following day, the very same poll had Bush up 7 percent. That was a pretty wide difference in one day, especially when nothing of any significance happened the day before.

These polls should not be taken lightly either. This is America. No one wants to be associated with a loser. If Dubya is up 10 percent on election day, the undecideds might just jump on the bandwagon. People aren’t going to waste their time if the polls say the election is a landslide victory for someone. Candidates abandon their party’s philosophical bases if the polls show the people care about different “mainstream” issues. Public opinion seen in these polls are a big part of the reason that both party’s are moving to the center.

If Dubya wins 60% of the popular vote, he can still lose the election in the electoral college if Gore wins in the right states. In other words, these polls are meaningless except for trying to give undecided voters an idea of what everyone else is thinking, which is basically telling them they can’t think for themselves.

The candidates know this, so they treat the polls according to how they are faring in them at that point in time. When they are up 10 percent, as each have been, we heard, “Look at the polls. The people have spoken.” And yet, when the shoe is on the other foot and they have fallen behind, suddenly it’s, “Don’t look at the polls. They don’t mean anything, they’ve been wrong before.”

Another thing I have a problem with is the entire polling process, which is incorrectly labeled “scientific.” Do you really think that 1,024 “likely” voters are going to give the overall opinion of the entire country? And just who can be considered a “likely” voter? I am “likely” to vote, in fact I am definitely going to vote. Does that exclude me from being polled? Likely is a funny word to define. I am “likely” to tell someone I am not home when I don’t want to hear about USA Today’s trial offer, but really I am right there on the phone talking to them. Pollsters aren’t going to waste their time on someone who isn’t sure if they will vote or not. Those are the real undecideds. These are the people who haven’t made up their minds whether or not to go out and vote for a third party to give the finger to the Republicrats. I haven’t gotten the call and I am sure you haven’t either. In fact I don’t know anyone else who has.

Polls have always been around, but have never been so influential. There are still some people out there that for whatever reason haven’t made up their minds yet, and the polls can be the difference in swaying their decision over to one candidate.

I probably won’t be getting that call from CNN or ABC anytime soon, but even if I did, I’d probably say I didn’t have time to talk anyway. I am a busy man.