Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Candidates Count On Us

The election is still some weeks away, but our twenty-four hour a day mainstream media seems intent on asking us how we're going to vote; when of course they're not trying to subliminally tell us how we're going to vote. They're apparently able to gain such knowledge through a rather arcane and twisted form of telemarketing known as polling. Don't get me wrong here.  There’s nothing actually new in using such a process, and there have been reputable firms like Rasmussen who have been doing it for many years; but these once reputable families have spawned a host of illegitimate offspring.

You see, with the increase in the number of network news organizations, the need to fill twenty-four hours of programming, and the desperate desire of daily newspapers to feel at least somewhat relevant in today’s world; it seems that everybody and their illiterate brother now wants to stick their name on this process of suffrage soothsaying. In fact, I don't believe I've seen this much attention paid to polls by the media since the year that the national newspaper conference and the stripper's convention were going on at the same time in Las Vegas. (I believe that's the year they came up with the slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".)

These pollsters will tell you that they've become quite sophisticated over the years in what they call 'leveraging' their polls to compensate for the number of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans expected to participate in the voting process. Voters in turn will tell you that they've become quite sophisticated themselves in conniving pollsters of into specious target identification (lying about the information counted on by pollsters for accuracy). Having briefly studied this often confusing form of mathematics while in college, I was always curious as to how in their methodical application probability and statistics, pollsters could also factor in that the only people analyzed were those willing to stay on the phone long enough 'to answer a few simple questions'.  Such a bias in data gathering hardly seemed to form a true sample. This would seem to become especially problematic when pollsters are attempting to gather numbers on 'likely voters' as opposed to 'likely poll takers'. 
Of course once their results are published we see one of their real purposes, as they become endless fodder used by media moderators and pundits alike. Those whose candidate is ahead can talk about the reputable nature of the polling organizations, while those behind can berate such organizations for media bias, improper skewing, and inconsistency with other polls. After they've decided that the information that they've just spent 30 minutes tearing apart and putting back together is of no value, they can go on to tell you how it will skew the polls on voting day for the final 30 minutes of their respective programs. Those ahead complain that leading in the polls causes voters not to vote for a candidate who already appears to be winning. Those behind in turn can complain that such numbers dissuade those supporting their candidate for bothering to vote in what these numbers say is a foregone conclusion against them. 
There are organizations that attempt further accuracy to such information by analysis of the output of the various polling organizations, believing that by averaging the inclinations of those averaging the inclinations, they can improve the odds of success. They may be right in method of course, but you certainly don't see anyone using such a methods at the crap table.

For myself, I find the entire process more than a little annoying under most circumstances, but perhaps that's because I am constantly beleaguered for my opinion from pollsters who think I still live in a battleground state. Oh sure, I can occasionally amuse myself by convincing the person on the other end of the line that I'm of a different race, income bracket, or political persuasion. After a while however, even randomly manipulating the careful conjectures of these statistical sadists loses its appeal.

Inevitably, I can't help but remember what polling has done to governance, and to be appalled that political campaigns have come to be run by these daily interrogations of the people in order to decide what the candidate believes from day to day. Such misuse of mathematics insults those who show the personal responsibility required to work for candidates, let alone those who show up on election day. All deserve better than to be constantly cross-examined to discover if they are as fickle in their core beliefs as the candidates that they invariably support.
I am proud to say however, that there has been one exception to this rule lately. It was a time when polling was far from required to divine the beliefs and the mood of the nation. For one brief and shining moment during this recent week of the campaign, the nation finally stood united. Partisan political bickering was set aside, if only for a time, and there was bi-partisan support across the nation crying out to the world with one voice on a Tuesday morning, 
 “We gotta get the regular refs back to work in the NFL.”

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