Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Hate Polls (Sort Of)

I read them, but I hate them. Actually, I'll acknowledge a like-hate relationship. They can be highly informative, or highly misleading. The way you phrase a question can dramatically skew the outcome, as can any number of other factors. For political junkies, they can be a lot of fun.

But although polls inspire much triumphalism and gloominess, what do they really mean? About six weeks ago, we heard a continuous whine from partisans and pundits that Obama wasn't polling at over 50%, and that this somehow meant he couldn't close the deal. As if you can close an election that far out in a nation that's pretty evenly divided, absent a horrendous scandal befalling your opponent. Then McCain had his post-convention/Palin bounce, and it was nothing but doom and gloom from Obama's supporters. Now Obama's polling significantly ahead of McCain, he's over 50% in a couple of polls, and we have people claiming that unless something big happens McCain can't win.

Guess what - the economic problems we're presently facing are big, and they happened. Lots of things can happen in five weeks, and it's not that you want any game-changers to come along, as they're often catastrophic, but... they could. And perhaps what we're seeing right now is a "financial bail-out bill bounce", not something that will hold any more than the McCain post-convention bounce. So let's take the polls for what they're worth, but remember that we're still five weeks away from the only poll that matters.

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