I am so sick of polls and their endless focus on the "horse race!" But more than that, I am sick of how people in politics use polls. It's not that I don't look at the research, mind you. However, there is a time, a place, and an appropriate use for them. Unfortunately, in this poll-driven, consultant-controlled political world, polls are substituted for real, thoughtful policy proposals and conscious decision making. Then, stat-phobia sets in. It's getting so that candidates look to polls to decide how to think, speak and act. In sulky horse race terms, that's putting the cart before the horse!
It's almost like superstitious behavior. Political consultants use polls (or other tactics), they win, and then they think they won because of poll use. So too it is with incessant robo-calls, or calling residents in small towns over and over, till voters feel hassled and harassed. The use of polls isn't new. I've used them myself for research. However, in the early nineties they were elevated to an art form (and I use the term "art" loosely) by both Republicans and Democrats alike.
In addition to being used as a self-fulfilling prophesy, they are also used to grease the palms of expensive consultants who'll show how to raise a candidate's number in this or that poll. Then, of course, they'll have their handy bag of tricks they think has worked before. And so they keep doing the same thing over and over. That's superstitious behavior. Throw money at pollsters, hire media consultants, buy expensive TV time. Keep on keeping on.
Over at MyDD.com (an excellent website, albeit with some pesky trolls), there is so much discussion of who leads in this or that poll. Will Clinton poll too negatively? Will Edwards peak by Sept? Will Obama overtake Hillary? How can either Edwards or Obama overtake "frontrunner" Hillary's lead? It goes on and on. We do it here, but to a considerably lesser extent.
To be sure, there is able discussion on the issues there too, as on other excellent blogs like RaisingKaine.com. But I have to ask, what are we doing here? Are we not falling prey to the so-called MSMs obsession with the horse race?
Though we should be spending this is the time deciding who best fits our mental proto-typical leader, many of us are looking at the "numbers," as if they could possibly tell us what we need to know at this point. And I say this as a person who loves statistics.
Seriously, what are we talking about here? Do we let others tell us what to think, or are we the decision makers of our most personal political choices? In recent years, my biggest letdown/political disappointment is not the leaders who let me down (and there are plenty of them right now who do), but rather the facile unsteadiness of those who would rather consult their bookie than their minds and hearts.
It takes effort to overcome all the cognitive biases and heuristics we employ to make normal decisions. Unfortunately, too many of us are surrendering the process to Pew (funded by the heirs of Sun Oil!!!!!!!), Gallup (founded by George Gallup, who wants to establish a Christian nation and use polls to do it), and the rest.
Today, every Democratic candidate fears being equated with John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, George McGovern, and even Howard Dean. The latter is amusing because Dean has, so far, been a very successful DNC chair. But, with his fifty-state strategy, he bucks the McAuliffe all-consultancy, all-the-time, political operative system. And so, he's still on the "list." The others, well, Kerry in particular was too timid and too poll driven. He wouldn't even defend himself soon enough. Dukakis and McGovern lost, not because of their being liberals, but because they were horrible campaigners. They played it safe. They didn't connect. And they listened too much to the consultancy. Otherwise, Dukakis would never have dreamed up that stupid ride in the tank himself. McGovern didn't even look voters in the eye as he shook their hand. I know because that's what he was like when I met him. A more apathetic candidate would be hard to find. McGovern suffered from being not-RFK--or one who had any charisma whatsoever. And as a result, he was insufferable. But the ghosts of Dukakis and McGovern unjustifiably haunt current candidates who keep tacking further and further right, even in the primary. As we speak, they are falling for the "surge worked" claptrap.
Meanwhile, voters fail to grasp that various Democratic candidates lost more recently because, in several cases Americans were duped by fear and manipulated by fear mongers. So they flocked in droves, like a nation of sheep. They elected the sheep-herder-in-chief, who's still, even this week, wandering the desert looking for a miracle.
We've got to talk our party's so-far leading candidates off their no-policy, poll-driven perches. In particular, Hillary and Obama are so risk averse that they haven't made a courageous criticism or daring proposal to meaningfully change the status quo in quite a while. Since their consultants wont, it's our job to push them to do it. Are we up to the task?
Our candidates need to stop answering to witless Soledad O'Brien about their "sins," as she had the gall to probe in the recent CNN "debate."
The words of Molly Ivins are relevant to the timid, downright stagnant policy prognostications of the two "front runners,"
"We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell."
May her words inspire us to right other administration wrongs as well.