Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Meaningless Polls

Have I ever mentioned how stupid pre-election polls are? I believe I have, and my conclusion comes from personal experience. These things are obviously fixed from the start, yet the media continually reports results of the polls as if Election Day has already come and gone.

Why does the media give these unofficial poll results such extensive coverage? Because the polls are being conducted under the aegis of...THE MEDIA:

Democrat Bob Casey has opened up a 15-point lead over Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum -- more than double the lead the challenger held in September -- according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/WTAE-TV Keystone poll released today. Casey leads Santorum 53 percent to 38 percent, with 9 percent undecided, according to the telephone poll of 626 registered voters conducted over five days ending Sunday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
According to the Trib, a telephone poll of 626 registered voters sets the stage for the outcome of this year's election. Or does it? I've said it before, and I will say it again: The only poll that counts is the one that takes place on Election Day. But, now that these polls have been publicized, what impact can they have?

For one thing, there's the "Yes Virginia, There Is A Senator Casey" type of reader who says that if you see it in the paper, it's true. Who the heck votes for a candidate based on a paper's endorsement? Those are as meaningless as these polls. Yet there are people out there who will vote Casey over Santorum because the PG endorsed him, or because the Trib shows him way ahead in a poll of 626 people.

Then there's the registered voter who sees that his candidate is so far behind that he will stay home and give his support to absolutely no one. Rick Santorum is behind in the polls? That's it. No chance of winning! Let's just give it up and hand the office over to Bob Casey. (The hidden beauty of this is that it can work the other way: The Democrat who stays home because, as much as he would like to vote for Casey, Santorum is so far behind that Casey doesn't need another vote.)

Getting back to the Trib article, we see another impact of these polls: They give academic experts an opportunity to step forward and make pronouncements on these races:

"(Santorum) is falling further behind as voters seem to be rejecting his shift in course toward focus almost exclusively on the war on terror," said Keystone Poll director G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster County. "It's a campaign theme that's not working well," Madonna said.

Why not focus on the War On Terror? Santorum is one of the few politicians who is willing to look at the war from a "big picture" perspective. More people -- not just his constituency -- need to listen to what he has to say. Santorum presents his case from a historical perspective, unlike the leftists who act as if the world began in 2003. If the war is not working well as a campaign theme, it's a shame, because Rick Santorum is well worth listening to on this issue.

Based on the results of its own poll, the Trib is getting ready to stick a fork in not only Senator Santorum, but also the Republican gubernatorial candidate:

Casey's lead, combined with Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's 25-point advantage over Republican challenger Lynn Swann, could portend disaster for Republicans on Tuesday, when voters head to the polls. Rendell, of Philadelphia, leads Swann, the former Steelers star from Sewickley Heights, by 58 percent to 33 percent, the poll shows.
Why? Because 626 people who were at home to answer the phone when the Trib called say so! Cue another expert from academia:

"It's clearly not a positive sign for Republicans in real competitive races lower on the ticket to have their headliners trailing this late in the campaign, but it's not necessarily a death knell," said Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. "Pennsylvanians have a clear record of splitting tickets."
He's right, you know. Keep in mind that Rick Santorum won his last election in 2000, when he was trailing in the polls up to the last minute, and in a state that Al Gore won over George W. Bush. In recent years, Pennsylvania has had a habit of re-electing incumbent governors to second terms, then switching to the other party for the next governor. Many Democrats elected to statewide office here have been moderate-to-conservative on many issues; conversely, a lot of our Republicans have tended liberal in a lot of ways. You can't judge the level of support for the smaller jurisdictions based on the leanings of the voters polled statewide. If you did, the results might surprise you.

Unless you're like me, and you recognize the folly of these things.

Here's a treat for you: Unlike most of these media polls, this one actually names names and gives more-or-less direct quotes. In the interest of saving space, the Trib samples one from either side:

Poll participant Charles K. Hillman, 68, of Monongahela, Washington County, said he will vote for Casey because he doesn't like the direction the country is going under Republican control. Hillman is upset that American soldiers are dying in Iraq in what seems to be "a civil war." "I do not trust Santorum, and I don't like Bush at all," he said. "I'm voting for a change."
Damned Republicans!

Walter J. Nichols, 42, of Commodore, Indiana County, said he will vote for Santorum because he is consistent in his views. Nichols likes Santorum's opposition to gun control and abortion. "Santorum has a platform he sticks with. He believes in what he says, and he stands for something," Nichols said. "Bob Casey seems to be the typical politician. Whatever you want to hear, he's going to say."

Damned Demmycrats!

Not surprisingly, Santorum's spokeswoman says that the poll doesn't mean anything, while Casey's boy says that it means everything in this race. Fair enough. That's how the spokespeople are expected to respond when asked about this kind of "news". The real story will be printed next Wednesday morning, when the results of the only serious poll come out. And those will be determined by people who are not waiting by the phone for the Trib to call.

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