Friday, November 09, 2007

The Mysterious Polls

We get new political polls almost every day, and almost every day what they show is ignored by the powers that be. This may not be wrong, given your political philosophy, but it is still very mysterious.

Consider the fact that polls show George Bush now being regarded as very unfavorably by more than half of the people surveyed. Consider the fact that his approval ratings have hovered around 30% (and have dipped into the twenties recently). This has very little impact on anything that is happening in the political arena. The people really do not matter, if polls are seen as statements from the people.

What is it about the polls which suddenly make them so impotent? I remember a time, not that long ago, when the polls were regarded as always correct, because they supported the current administration's policies. Now that this has changed we hear that polls are not to be trusted.

They depend on the exact form of questioning. For instance, if you ask whether the U.S. should get out of Iraq to stop the slaughtering of our military in an unwinnable war - well - you are going to get a lot of agreement with that. But if you ask whether the U.S. should stay and get the important job of winning the war on terror done in Iraq, then lots of people will agree with that one, too.

And this is true, of course. But the creators of the polls know this and they could easily create neutral questions which would then be kept the same poll after poll, to measure changes in opinions over time.

I also hear the argument that people don't really mean what they say in polls. Sure, they can say that the U.S. should get out of Iraq and that the Democrats in Congress should do all they can to achieve this. But then they also say that the Democrats shouldn't hold back on war funding, because this endangers the military. It also happens to be the most concrete policy the Democrats have to try to force an end to the occupation. Taken together, these two majority opinions make it impossible for the Democrats to act. So why not add a question which links the defunding of the military to the ending of the occupation and asks about that?

I think the real reason why polls are suddenly regarded so suspiciously is that they show very different results between the Republicans on the one hand and the Democrats and the Independents on the other hand. The Republicans like George Bush, want military resolutions in Iraq and like the idea of bombing Iran. The other two groups, not so much. That they constitute the majority today just might be the reason why polls are suddenly ignored.