Popping Too Many Polls

by Caleb Zigas on October 25, 2004

I’m addicted to polls. But there’s an irony involved; I need, desperately, to know who’s going to win at this very moment, though I’m more than willing to disbelieve any evidence that points, favorably, towards a candidate that’s not my own. Call me a pessimist with loopholes; I’m only willing to believe the polls so long as they show my side winning.


It’s a tough battle to watch. The evidence certainly isn’t getting clearer-all sides are crying foul on polling policies, and there are the numerous controversies to keep track of: no calls to cell phone holders, the disproportionate number of women answering phones, and the simple fact that they’ve never thought to call me. But I check every day nonetheless. My grandparents, and I’m lucky enough to have four of them, all hovering around the venerable ages of 75-80 years old, are calling this the most important election of their lives, and I can’t stop checking the polls.

But what if there’s something wrong? There has already been a surplus of information about the flaws of our polling systems. At this point this much is clear; we are all obsessed with polls, but their actual value may mislead us massively. But we check anyway. To this point, I have found myself helplessly addicted to Slate’s election scorecard. The scorecard, largely compiled by William Saletan, takes an intimate look at a massive survey of polls and then weights the results according to likely voter turnout, the pollster’s credibility and local trend indicators. The result is a disturbing account of electoral votes that only once in the last two months, and for only one day, has favored John F. Kerry. Otherwise we’re talking about a clean sweep.

And this is what I have such a hard time believing. Maybe it’s just the cell phone users that remain unaccounted for. Don’t believe the hype. Maybe it’s just the way that pollsters ask their questions, perhaps the answers skew towards a conservative viewpoint. Don’t believe the hype. Or maybe, just maybe, undecideds will swing (unanimously) toward Kerry on election day, and all of this will be forgotten as quickly as the Supreme Court can declare our new President. Or maybe don’t believe the hype.

We can count on this election being stickier and more contested than any in our modern history. The vote itself seems to be tearing America towards two disparate ideological positions, of which either side might look across the gaping void and think, “what am I going to do if the other side wins?” And for that reason, I am looking to the polls. I need to know what I am going to do. I think, to some extent, we all do.

This election has polarized America to a tipping point, and the inaccuracy of our polls and our dual ability to trust blindly and doubt incredulously the numbers we are given are emblematic of our relationship with numbers, proportions, and representation in the coming election. Some of our greatest fears lay in the possibility that the world at large may shift from viewing the American government as capable of massive wrongdoings to seeing the American people as supportive of such deeds. This would be a grievous error in not only public perception but also international politics. And it is for this reason that I am looking to the polls.

But they give no answers. I am addicted nonetheless. I need to know, and I need to know now. We are all stuck. We have gone to swing states, we have sent our letters, and maybe, some of us, have even said our prayers. It is not out of our hands yet, there is still work to be done, but most importantly we need to keep believing that this election can be won. I know that I need to believe it. It’s why I keep looking at the polls.

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