Have We Become Too Focused on Polls in Elections?
On Saturday, Rob posted about Republican pollster Whit Ayres and his projection that the North Dakota Senate seat being fought over by Republican Representative Rick Berg and former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, will go to the GOP. This projection seemingly aligned with Berg’s 3-1 fundraising edge, but contradicted the perception generated by the main stream media and Heitkamp campaign that the ND Senate race is neck and neck.
So what are the real numbers? Putting aside the irrefutable fact that the only poll which is 100% accurate is the one tabulated on Election Day, the argument over what poll is more accurate or “more correct” has become it’s own cottage industry within the larger political punditry one. RealClearPolitics has built much of their success, for example, on “averaging” (if this is truly possible) the many polls conducted in various races. Lots can also be said about the potential for skewing up front the survey process used to generate a poll to better generate results desired by those commissioning it.
All this begs the following question: Have the voters become too focused on polls in helping them make their voting decisions, rather than taking the time to examine each candidate and how they match up against their own personal values? The sheer growth of the polling industry, when examined under the lens of the laws of supply and demand (with information being the commodity in this instance), would make an argument that the answer to that question is yes. People want to know more and more what others are thinking when making their personal voting decisions, and the pollsters are all too willing to fill that gap with more and more information to satisfy the peoples curiosity.
Lets get back to the Berg vs. Heitkamp race for a moment. According to RealClearPolitics, three polls have been conducted and released for public consumption in May, June, and July of 2012, with Berg leading in two of the three resulting in an RCP average (again, if this is to believed truly accurate) of +5.0 points. Yet as described in Rob’s post from Saturday, if one asked the main stream media or Heitkamp operatives, the race is so close you could not shove a piece of cigarette paper between the actual margin. Even with this supposed fact on the table, Berg continues to campaign in an almost lazy manner, as if he had a lead pipe lock on winning the race.
So what do we believe? That, ladies and gentlemen, is the real issue. In years past, not a lot of polling was conducted on North Dakota races. Presidential polling was limited in comparison to what is done today. There was a large portion that did (and always will) vote their party regardless of if the person was right for the job. Those that called themselves independent truly were; they had no choice but to look at the candidates, have discussions with their family and friends, consider their personal values, and vote their conscience inside the booth. In short, the lack of information on what others felt forced them to make up their own minds. Today, the focus of news on that race has been the perceived closeness of the race, and now the lack of a poll since July is becoming its own story too.
That is the unfortunate consequence of the vast availability of polling information, especially when it has been skewed. Independent voters may for the most part not be casting their votes as they used to; after a thorough evaluation. That is ironic in today’s world of information availability. Now, too much potential exists for sticking their finger in the wind to determine its direction (via the “latest” poll), and casting their vote accordingly. After all, no one wants to be on the “losing” team, and believing polls (whether they should be or not) saves a lot of time and effort on their part when making a voting decision.
So what is the answer? Obviously we can’t outlaw polling for constitutional reasons, and because the cat is out of the bag, it would be next to impossible anyways. Polling itself is not inherently bad, it is just how it is sometimes done and how the results are presented which presents the concerns. There probably isn’t a good answer that will reverse the trend of apparent dependence on polls to help voters make their voting decisions for them. What perhaps can be done is the encouragement of more polling on what issues matter the most to voters in the hopes candidates will better tailor their message to answering how they will address those issues. Such polls do exist, but they are far from the forefront of political news coverage. The harder work will have to come in the form of re-educating voters on the sheer importance of their vote, and more importantly, casting it in a truly informed manner.Tags: Barack Obama, election 2012, Heidi Heitkamp, Media, media bias, mitt romney, North Dakota News, Politics, Rick Berg, Uncategorized