Monday, September 20, 2004

Fun With Poll-Sucking

Memo, once again, to the general political audience and the means by which they receive information: 48% of you are DUMB, another 46% of you are DUMB, and six percent of you are undecided, but PROBABLY FUCKING DUMB.
Do we need eight polls a day? No, we do not. Do we need even ONE poll a day? Probably not. Do we need polls at all? Maybe. They were definitely useful at one point, but the hideous, misshapen monster they've become should probably be put out of its misery. Either by the army, or, barring that, angry villagers with pitchforks and torches.
It's not really the fault of the concept of polling, which is grounded in scientific research, has grown along with the development of statistics, and meticulously carried out by professionals with education and a deep understanding of what it is they're doing. A finely crafted poll is like an intricate detailed, hand-painted vase. The artistry is undeniably impeccable. The only problem is, the vase is made out of hardened shit and it's handed over to a caveman who proceeds to beat people over the head with his new shit-vase.
Polls are a service. Like any service in our capitalist society, polling is paid for. Therefore, polling must have a perceived value. So, to keep the money rolling in, that perceived value must be maintained. So the polling companies don't really like to let on the fact that, oh, their surveys don't include the opinions of people unwilling to waste half an hour of their lives answering questions over the phone. Which is an increasingly large percentage of the number of people they call.
Which means that if there's a significant difference between the opinions of people willing to provide their opinions, and the people unwilling to provide them, the polls are fucked. And since we'll never know what the opinions of non-opinion-givers ARE...
Then there's the hoops they have to go to to try to prove that the 500 people they called are representative of the population as a whole, which in the first place is fucking iffy at best, and in the second place, not the kind of thing you want the people selling you the poll to be determining. "Why yes, our poll is totally representative! Trust us!" Uh huh.
But let's assume, just for one moment, that everyone involved in a national political poll, from the person who first decides to have a poll, to the person that sells you the newspaper in which the results are printed, is a fucking saint on toast, with nothing but the purest of intentions and the kindest of hearts.
The pollsters take pains not only to make the best poll they can, but explain, in excruciating detail, all the various ways in which their poll's results could deviate from reality. The reporter writing the story does an excellent job of boiling down the salient points and explaining them simply to an audience unfamiliar with statistics. The editor of the paper positions the story appropriately given those caveats, and includes a tasteful, non-sensationalistic headline describing the latest poll. And the clerk at the SuperAmerica doesn't see the headline, point, and start chanting "FOUR MORE YEARS! FOUR MORE YEARS!" He just takes your money and lets you leave.
At that point, the newspaper will STILL be opened by John Q. Fuckwit, he'll skim the article, see "Latest poll has incumbent ahead by 3%, well-inside the five percent margin of error", walk to work, stand near the water-cooler or water-cooler equivalent, and say to his co-worker, "Man, did you see the paper today? The challenger is FUCKED.
At which point the co-worker, hearing that the challenger is fucked, decides that he probably has better things to do on November 2nd than to stand in line in some stinky apartment building lobby waiting for his chance to touch-screen vote (sans paper trail), and it doesn't matter anyway because there's no way Challenger can beat Incumbent, and then, that night, when he's called by another polling company trying to work up TOMORROW'S poll and sell it to the media, he hangs up on them, or tells them he's not gonna vote, or tells them he's "undecided".
Used to be that polls measured opinions, and those opinions were formed by things that WEREN'T OTHER POLLS. There were only a couple of polls, and a couple of pollsters, and a couple of networks, and there weren't three different top-of-the-hour stories on three different polls on three different 24-hour news channels. Now, the whole thing is the classic snake-biting-itself-on-the-ass scenario. Half-ass polls are trumpeted by an incompetent media which feeds them to an ignorant public who accepts them as holy, incontrovertible writ and uses them to make sure that come November 2nd, they can say they didn't vote for a LOSER. Hoo-fucking-ray.