Thursday, January 29, 2004

Polls -- there's only one that counts

Steven Den Beste reports today that he doesn't pay attention to polls, except for one: the actual election results. I tend to agree with him. Polls have never seemed to me to be particularly useful, because even in the most carefully constructed of polls, there is still a disconnect that shows up quite often between what happens and what the polls had seemed to indicate would happen.

But what annoys me more about polls is the way they allow political matters to be reduced almost to the level of sports, with the corresponding style of reportage that you might expect from such an outcome. I saw headlines last week, prior to the New Hampshire primary, such as "Kerry opens up big lead" and "Dean trailing as time runs out" -- as if the whole process is akin to a football game, to say nothing of the absurdity of such a way of looking at things: If the primary's on Tuesday, how can a guy have any lead at all three days before any votes have been cast?

And this "elections-as-sporting-event" type of reporting always ends up on the front page, while something actually important, such as coverage of an actual Kerry speech or Dean policy proposal or, you know, something actually substantive and relevant to the question of which one of these guys might make a good President ends up on page A-6 of the paper. The real news gets stuffed on the inner pages, leaving the front page open for "McNews" such as reportage of the most recent polls.

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