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Opinion
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Ambrose: Don’t waste time pondering poll results

By Jay Ambrose
Published: June 21, 2024, 6:01am

It bugs me, it really bugs me that too often when you tune into a TV discussion about the Biden-Trump presidential race, you hear too little about issues and endless, totally pointless gab about who looks most likely to win the election.

The wisdom is mostly arrived at by polling that these days is just a way of making feverishly researched guesses that are frequently wrong.

Even if they are correct when first revealed to the public, everything could get topsy-turvy as voting gets nearer.

None of this is to say that the pollsters are tricksters, we are assured, just that this is no longer the era of mostly landline phones that once got answered with more regularity than today’s cell phones and by more cooperative citizens.

It’s reported that some voters don’t make up their minds until the last moment and others change their minds in that crowded moment.

People of some political persuasions are easier to reach than people with different preferences, and the most highly educated, it’s said, are the easiest to contact.

CNBC reports, as an interesting factor, that Trump supporters, for instance, may fear revelation of their favoring the king of controversy and thereby becoming controversial themselves.

And here’s what the New York Times tells us can really mess things up: not knowing what the turnout is going to be. Maybe the lovers of the likely loser are a crowd never to be forgotten while the supposed winner’s supporters are sufficiently relaxed to flatten ambitions.

It’s noted that a 1 percent pollster error is enough to misjudge the future of America, and Politico is among those telling us that the result of the 2020 presidential race was a lot more than that, the furthest from getting the numbers right of any pollster guess in 40 years.

The estimate about Trump losing the election was right, but he got the most votes of any candidate besides Biden in any American election ever.

Then came the 2022 midterm elections in which people in my line of work took pollsters seriously enough to forecast flat-out Republican control of Congress. Sorry, GOP.

In today’s world, the Times tells us, it recently took one of its pollsters two hours of making phone calls to get a needed 15-minute interview with a single citizen.

The paper goes on to say in so many words that election polling could be transported to a graveyard if it indulges in serious error in this year’s Nov. 5 presidential election.

It’s not my contention that saying goodbye would be a national good if corrective measures were available and news media made occasional references without the sense that their job is somehow to know the future and share the knowledge.

Their job instead is to supply in-depth coverage of central issues along with factually substantiated information about character and the candidates’ capacity to serve his or her fellow citizens.

The coverage should be as objective, fair, balanced and thorough as practically doable, but opinion writers and commentators have a place in media, too, though not as final, determinative instruction.

We are here as an incitement to thought, the introduction of varied, hopefully important ideas, of questions that need consideration.

It’s good to hear more than one side of an issue and easy enough to find variety on the internet, not least on Realclearpolitics.com.

If you are watching TV news with the foremost, endless emphasis on the latest polls, you are wasting your time.

The only poll that really counts is what we call an honest election and the news that counts most is explaining the differences between the candidates on the job they would likely do in terms of constitutional dedication, issue analysis, management capacity and human decency.

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