We all know that opinion polls are useful. Even in a representative democracy, the opinions, wants, and needs of the people should be known and taken into account, so that the ‘democratic conversation’ can make headway.But I question their usefulness at election time, when the settled will of the people will be known in a few days/weeks time anyway. The hysteria in Iowa and then New Hampshire, concerning the fall-and-rise of Clinton, and the rise-and-fall of Obama, are entirely driven by, and make no sense without opinion polling. Obama’s performance in the latter state was only considered a ‘loss’ because the pollsters had him up by 15%. Had the last polling been a few weeks earlier, the same result would have been a ‘win’.
It is because of polling that politicians change strategy, flip-flop, and say what they think the public want to hear, not what they actually believe. In turn, this duplicity insults the public and demeans the system.
The polling surrounding these Presidential Primaries is ridiculous, and not only because it appears to be so innaccurate. What is the point of calculating these pseudo-results, when a real plebiscite is only days away? Each Primary acts as its own, super-opinion-poll, asking an entire State of people what they think.
What would happen if public opinion polls are banned within one month of an election? Candidates and Election Monitors could still do their own, private polling if they wished, and a more even distribution of the Primaries would mean that the media had an unfolding narrative to report on. We would still have the highs-and-lows, winners and losers (both real and ‘percieved’). But these would be based on tangible results, not conjecture, extrapolation, falsehood, or hyperbole. The Bradley Effect, and insidious concept, would be killed off. Voters would vote for their preferred candidate on the issues, and not suffer the emotional blackmail of being asked to vote ‘tactically’ for what the media tells them is the most electable candidate.
Polling is like a lense, which often allows us to magnify and understand a political issue. But at election time, these lenses do nothing but distort, and the picture we see is uglier than it should be.