In an election cycle the one thing that we can’t get away from is polls. We love them because they are the guiding facts to our political conversations. Whenever a politician has a great talking point, a career-ending gaffe or just an average day, we are immediately drawn to how that action affects their standings. But does it really matter what the poll is measuring, since the next day it could reflect something totally different, and often does? Why do we rely on polls so much if they’re that volatile? Are they trustworthy enough to merit our attention?
At the New York Times, Frank Bruni wrote an editorial examining “Our Insane Addiction to Polls.” In it he quotes Ralph Reed, a Republican strategist, who noted that “there seems to be an inverse relationship between the preponderance of polling and the reliability of polling.” Reed is on to something here that bears further implications on media coverage and how the average voter perceives a candidate.
This polling phenomena has a long history, but it has taken on a special significance within 2016. Indeed, the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump touts his poll numbers as though they were Scripture. It is his justification for rash statements and odd positions. It is the media’s justification for giving him more airtime. Finally, it is the voter’s justification for voting for him, because “he is the only viable candidate.”
The truth-seekers one last hope is that pollsters are beginning to realize the radical shift in their industry. Mollyann Brodie, the president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, states “it’s no secret that the polling industry is in transition” and that its history is one of “transition and innovation.” Surely, the technological revolution of the last 50 years is evidence enough of this. Yet, even with all of this technology, she and other pollsters interviewed by Steven Shepard at Politico cautioned against making any premature pronouncements based on polls.
So, the takeaway is yes, polls are fine but we ought not view them as what defines our voting habits. We need to remember that all of this poll-talk that Trump, the media and our culture at large touts needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Supporting a candidate simply because they are “viable” or “doing well” is not what voting is all about; getting informed and looking at a candidate’s record and rhetoric is.