For whom the polls toll
The horserace polls dominating today’s political news are worse than misleading – they’re bad for democracy. They’re as corrosive of America’s self-image as the news industry’s obsession with murder and disaster, a black hole wildly unwarranted by actual crime and catastrophe. They’re as toxic to our spirit as the advertising industry’s brilliant cultivation of loneliness and desire, a yearning it persuades us to slake by spending money. Worse, once the nominees are chosen, the point of poll coverage will be that, unless you live in a handful of zip codes, your vote for president is irrelevant. How’s that for civic uplift?
It’s more instructive to look at the people being polled than to look at the candidates. This cycle, despite a race on the Democratic side, it’s the Republican electorate – specifically, likely Republican primary and caucus voters – whose enthusiasm for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina et al has so disproportionately affected the nation’s sense of its psyche. Who are these 120,000 Hawkeyes, these quarter-million Granite Staters, these engaged Republicans in a small number of states whom pollsters have repeatedly surveyed in batches of a thousand? How representative are they of you or me or people we know? According to a “>quiz here: “>11, “>five or just “>decided by a crowd that wouldn’t fill the Rose Bowl. Though there will be some effort to pump up the turnout of the base, most advertising buying, ground game spending and candidate scheduling will be driven by the pursuit of those undecided voters.
Next fall, if you want to know what winning the White House is about, ignore the liberal or conservative tribes. The data most worth knowing will describe people who will have spent the past two years ignoring pretty much everything that Democrats and Republicans say they stand for and will do. These Americans will be unlike you, but the difference will not be ideological. It will be the difference between being passionate about a leader who shares your beliefs, and being uninformed, disengaged, alienated, indifferent.
Just like you, they’ll have only one vote to cast. But theirs will actually make a difference.
Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at email@example.com.