What’s Up With the Polls?

So, I know that polls seem to mostly be at least close to what actually ends up happening in an election, but I’m usually mystified.  I understand their +/- percentage points, but it always seems to me that, given the small sample we’re usually talking about that such polls could easily be further from reality than such percentage points indicate.  New Hampshire was clearly a case in point on Tuesday.  But what I always struggle to understand is why the need for media to sound so sure about their polls.  Why is it that we need such assured predictions?  Especially when such predictions actually affect the elections which are being predicted.  That is, can we be sure that polls aren’t close to what happens in an election precisely because the election merely reinforces what the polls tell the voters?  As a recent Iowan, I have just experienced my first caucus and on the whole I’m less than pleased with the process (see below).  What I do think is good about the caucus, though, is that you can actually see support (or lack thereof) before you cast your vote.  How many people won’t vote for Kucinich (or whomever) if they’re told they don’t have any support?  If you walk into a room, though, and see people standing in a corner for Kucinich a possible voter might say, hmmm, maybe it is worth casting a vote.  The polls are the exact opposite; we are given solid predictions (which may or may not actually represent the larger populace) and most voters will cast votes accordingly.  The media direct our elections and thank god for New Hampshire to remind us of this fact–how many speechless pundits have you heard in the last two days?  They don’t know what to do now.  I actually heard several pundits admitting “I don’t know…”  Slow down media, take a breath, realize we don’t know and adjust your coverage accordingly.  We don’t need your predictions.

On another horrifying note, I realized this morning that for perhaps the first time I actually have agreed with Jonah Goldberg.  I’m with him: all the myths about Iowa being more prepared for the civic duty of leading the country into the elections are myths.  Until this caucus, Iowa averages 6% attendance at the caucus.  Do you really believe that Iowa is the only state that can muster such pathetic attendance for the all-important kickoff event?  I didn’t think so.  And the caucus system itself is outdated (and the notion that this is some long standing tradition that must be upheld is also a myth: the Iowa caucus is a relatively new phenomenon).  Move the leadoff geographically around the country.  Or, hold regional primaries which could also move.  We’ve already got Tsunami Tuesday.  Let’s break it down a bit more evenly and have a midwest primary, a southeast primary etc.  And shift which region goes first so that everyone gets a slice of the pie.   OK, I’m done with politics for awhile.  I’ve got a Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout going, mmmmm…..  Back to you later.

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