Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hey Suckers! I Have A Political Poll Just For You

Has it occurred to anyone but me that political polling in America no longer can be considered a cottage industry and that these vultures can crunch the numbers and phrase the questions to produce answers their clients desire.

I mean politicians can't go to the bathroom without taking a poll. I exaggerate, of course. But it is getting close to that.

As a student of political behavior, I consider polls as a ballplayer throwing blades of grass in the air to figure which way the wind is blowing at that particular moment.

Let's look at today's latest poll, this one an Associated Press-GfK Poll, which I quote:

There's encouraging news for Democrats battling to retain control of Congress in this fall's elections, with the party holding a slender edge in public trust for shepherding the economy and small gains in those saying their finances are healthy...
The good news for Democrats: By a margin of 47% to 42%, people trust them more than Republicans to guide the economy, and slightly more — 64% — say their household budgets are in good shape.

For me, a Democrat, that's encouraging. But I guarantee you there are dozens of other polls out there that say the Republicans will win, perhaps even a majority, in November.

These polls are like blogsites. You embrace the ones in which you agree and reject those that in your considered opinion rub against your way of thinking.

On the right, Fox News loves the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll because it usually shows President Obama swimming in troubled waters.

Golly gee, Rasmussen reports as of today, Wednesday, 24% of the nation's voters strongly approve of Obama's performance and 44% strongly disapprove. We need to wait three days before Rasmussen determines a bounce from the president's oil disaster speech Tuesday night.

Heading into the speech, 30% of voters gave President Obama good or excellent marks for handling the oil spill. Forty-five percent said he was doing a poor job. Most voters (57%) still favor offshore oil drilling.

Rasmussen results are based upon nightly telephone interviews and reported on a three-day rolling average basis.

I don't become concerned what methods pollsters use or what voter list they try to reach because if they screw up such as the outfit that predicted Alf Landon would beat President Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election, they won't be around very long.

Polls are like the Bible. You can find passages that will justify your beliefs no matter how bizarre.

Some polling companies such as Gallup and Pew have been around for years and have a decent reputation because they more often than not are on target. 

I randomly selected the Zogby poll because I have heard about them. Here are some of the headers:

• Zogby Interactive:  66% of Americans Believe Gulf Spill is a "Disaster" That Will Cause Long Term Damage... (6/8/10)

• Obama Approval Steady at 47% While Oil Spill Continues... (6/7/10)

• 71% Don't Like 'Bank Bailouts,' But Small Majorities See Necessity of Government Intervention... (5/20/10)

And, so on.

Politicians cannot live without polls for they are tools to hone their messages to the voters. The trick, in my opinion, is not to become a whore and sell your soul as I believe John McCain is now doing in Arizona to win the Republican Senate nomination.

The media is big on polls because they give us something to write about to support particular angles to a story. I suppose it makes the authors seem credible as if they are quoting historical documents or something. Far from it, I say.

let's take a look at the story that triggered this tirade.

In addition, people want Democrats to win control of Congress by a 46% to 39% margin. That is the second straight month in which Democrats have held a delicate advantage on that question since April, when 44% preferred Republicans and 41% picked Democrats. 

A reminder: Today is June 16, not Nov. 2 and as they say, a lot of sewage can flow downstream between now and then.

These polling results have their organizers scrambling to explain contradictory evidence culled from the surveys.

The public's anti-Washington mood remains robust, with 55%  saying they want a new member of Congress — bad news for Democrats with more incumbents to defend. A low 24% approve of how Congress (both with Democratic majorities) is doing its job, a hefty 72% still say the nation's economy is in poor condition, and 77% consider huge federal budget deficits a top concern.

Most polls released by pollsters put a face on their topics.

"It's just my conservative views on taxes, on how involved government gets in people's lives," said Jessica Iskander, 25, a homemaker from Hartly, Del., who wants Republicans running Congress.

And the honest ones as the story I'm using as Exhibit A of long-term insignificance polled 1,044 adults by landline and cell phone with a 4.3 margin of error.

That "margin of error" interests me, not being a numbers cruncher myself. I suspect it means the person doing the polling was unreliable and some of the voters misunderstood the questions and lied to get off the phone and go back watching a reality show on television.

Now, if only those geniuses estimating the BP oil spill could wish for a 4.3% margin of error, that's progress.

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