Polls have become an extremely lazy way to report on political campaigns. No digging is required and reporters get a new story with each new poll. I for one have never minded the horse-race aspect of reporting-as long as other stories are covered, too.
But this time that hasn’t been the case. The Obama campaign has been handled with kid gloves (to a Greg Pallowitz blog item saying that Charles Gibson had “hit” Obama on his questionable donors, a Mark Steyn responded: “Oh, please, Greg. That’s not a ‘hit’, that’s a Swedish massage by Princess Fluffy Bunny.”)
And so now in default of solid reporting, we are left with polls-and both sides are begging the public to ignore them (for different reasons). Speaking of both kinds of polls (the ones that supposedly tell us how we are voting and the ones where we vote), Karl Rove notes the disastrous effect of calling an election too early:
“On election night in 2000 Al Hunt — then a columnist for this newspaper and a commentator on CNN — was the first TV talking head to erroneously declare that Florida’s polls had closed, when those in the Panhandle were open for another hour. Shortly before 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Judy Woodruff said: “A big call to make. CNN announces that we call Florida in the Al Gore column.”
“Mr. Hunt and Ms. Woodruff were not only wrong. What they did was harmful.”
A Republican pollster, moreover, says that the race will be close.
As I said, I have no objection to the who’s ahead form of reporting (when bolstered by-well-reporting on other issues in a race). But I can’t help thinking that this year the heavy reliance on polling will have a profoundly negative effect. If the polls are right, Republicans will feel cheated and claim that they couldn’t get out the vote because of the polls. And if they are wrong and there is an upset-well, the charges will be damaging to our whole social fabric. Racism or election theft will be invoked.
We’d be going into this election better prepared for the outcome if reporters had done a better job.