Has the media succeeded in taking control of our government? I propose that the media uses polls to force weak-ass politicians to bend to the current will of the majority, as shown in the latest poll. Often these polls use very small samples and the methodologies of different polling organizations are wildly different. Morning Joke loves to throw polls at politicians and confront them about how their stance doesn’t fit with the majority. It isn’t just Joe (an intern was found dead in his office) Scarborough but many other talking heads and pundits do the exact same thing. Haven’t they had any statistics classes?
As Chris Matthews pointed out so pointedly on his show two nights ago, go here for more, “But the poll that was the official poll, where people had to go into the booth and vote…” that’s the only “poll” that really counts. I could rattle off all sorts of polls that have been wrong over the years for individual races, but that’s really beside the point I’m trying to make. When we elect someone, we elect that person to make judgments and represent us with the principles they ran on, and their whole world view. When I vote for a candidate, I want that candidate to make decisions based on their best judgment not whichever way the wind is blowing on that particular day.
The media just beats these polls into the public consciousness, and as we learned from the Reagan years and ever since, if you repeat something over and over again, pretty soon people start to believe it, whether it’s factually true or not. Of course the Republicans have raised it to an art form, I’m pretty sure the NEA has given them grants it’s such a powerful art form. The really shitty part of this phenomenon is that there is no good way to change it. The lazy journalists in this country use it as a crutch, heaven forbid they write an original article or do a little research or expose a crooked politician. And it gives them tremendous power that they yield over politicians, you can’t watch a Sunday morning show or any other political cable news show without a poll being dragged out and abused.
The last thing I’ll say about polls is that they are exaggerated to the extreme. “The people want this or that”….when it may very well be 52% of the people in a poll with a margin of error of +/- 4%. It drives me nuts when they completely discard the views of the other 48%. When you see a margin of error higher than 3%, the sample is usually less than 800 people, many times less than that because not every question is answered by all the participants. So often the results they spew are even smaller subgroups within the poll. “Of the people who support Obama, 20% believe this or that”…..which may very well be less than a hundred people when you divide up the pie.
If you are ever in need of a reality check about any given poll, visit Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, he’ll give you realistic analysis and perspective too.