Those Wacky Polls

The Iowa Caucuses are just a day away (thank God!), and the polls are flying out faster than you can say “likely caucuser”. Seems like every day I wake up to some blowhard on the TV quoting a new poll showing candidate X doing this or that or the other. This is followed by a lot of “Beltway Conventional Wisdom™” spouted by some guy or gal whose opinion I neither care about, nor care to hear.

Since 12/1/07, 25 polls have been released out into the wild speculation echo chamber that is most of the TV political reportage. All of these polls have offered up similar results. Generally speaking the results they report all fall within the margin of error, making them, for my money, inconclusive. What’s disconcerting is that they are reported, day after day, as gospel truth.

I’m no pollster, but I know enough about math, statistics and sampling to know that minor inconsistencies, choice of questions, wording of questions, the pollster’s definition of “likely voter” and the time of contact (assuming it’s a phone based poll) can swing a poll in one direction or another. Further, participating in a poll requires the pollee to answer the phone. I don’t know about you, but if my caller ID comes up with anything other than a name I know, I just don’t answer. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there that does this.

There are a lot of things that can affect the result of a poll, and few if any of these circumstances are regularly addressed by the media. That’s what I have a problem with. In the 5 most recent Iowa Democratic polls listed on pollster.com there are 5 completely different results. The only thing that all of these have in common are the 3 leaders, Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are all in the top 3. I’m pretty sure we all already knew that.

What we don’t know, without doing a good bit of digging, is how the poll was conducted, who paid for it, or why we should give a rat’s ass about their inconclusive conclusions.

Give the polls a rest folks. I know turning the Presidential race into a 4 year affair is something the newsies want more than a new puppy, but for the love of all that is Holy take it down a notch. Using your bully pulpit on the idiot box to teach people about the process instead of making it seem like the insider crap fest that it has been just might be a better use of your time.

Oh yeah, Happy New Year!

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