Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Polling Trolling

One poll says that the Republicans have a lead over Hillary Clinton. Another says that Sen. Clinton has a lead over every Republican. Both are from reliably neutral and scientific polling organizations — Zogby and Gallup — and both stake their reputation on their results, or they wouldn’t have published them.

Polling is an extremely statistic-laden science that most people, including yours truly, do not presume to understand or even bother reading. We just look at the headlines and take from them what we want…not unlike the Oracle of Delphi, whose cryptic revelations could be either good or bad depending on the agenda of the questioner. Pollsters themselves know that they are dealing with a shifting and detached electorate, and asking who they want for president eleven months before the general election is always problematic; the voters aren’t really paying attention to the presidential race and are probably answering the pollsters’ questions based on who’s name they’ve heard most recently. Trying to predict the outcome of an election without the first vote being cast is roughly equivalent to predicting the win-loss record of the 2008 Detroit Tigers based on the size of Brandon Inge’s biceps.

At this time in 2003, Howard Dean led the Democratic field, John Kerry was in third place, and several polls indicated that any Democrat would beat an embattled George W. Bush. We all know how that turned out. So read the polls and rejoice or weep for the moment, knowing that the next one will be just as certainly enigmatic as the last one.