Polling Pandemonium: Why I Ignore Every Polling Story

Have you seen the latest poll? It proves, once and for all, that Romney/Obama is winning/losing Ohio/Virginia/Florida/The Election. Not only that, but it fundamentally proves that liberalism/conservatism is the dominant/losing force in America/The World.

The message is pretty clear, guys: Republicans/Democrats/Libertarians — it’s time to give up/start celebrating.

Such is the daily grind of the average PolicyMic reader. It’s even worse for your average politico.  It’s a painful slog that ultimately tells us nothing while giving us so many conflicting messages that we can either despair or rejoice. I’m never sure which side to choose — are you?

But why choose either? The numbers will change the next day. Each morning, you’ll have the chance to spiral into new depths of despair or reach new heights of elation. You might even have the chance to change your mind if new polls come out in the afternoon.

This still leaves one important question: why do so many polls contradict each other? To find the answer, you have to go beyond a poll’s headline. You’ll never know how useful a poll is unless you know all of the details. Most polls divulge their party affiliation breakdown — always look for that.  There’s also the small matter of the margin of error. And all too often, a poll's sample size is too small or specific to accurately gauge the public’s pulse.

Many a statistical anomaly lies beneath the kicker, it turns out. Here on PolicyMicJesse Merkel has done an excellent job picking apart the polls in the search for truth. We should all take note of his method: his thirst for accuracy shows just how absurd many bean counters can be.

So here’s my two cents. Stop fretting over the polls. You’ll never learn anything you didn’t already think. Instead, start bantering over the issues. Democratic government is a lot more substantive than the daily dissection of the polls. If it’s not, then maybe we should put it up for a vote — and a pre-vote poll. I’m ready to win/lose/recount if you are.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Stephen Ford

Stephen Ford is a communication director a D.C.-based government affairs firm.

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