Can you believe it? It is almost here! The Iowa caucuses and the first opportunity for Americans to vote for their preferences in the 2008 presidential contest between the Democrats and Republicans.
But, those pesky pollsters are ruining the great American franchise by imperfect data and swaying people based on said imperfect data.
In the last presidential election, erroneous exit-polling data gave a false impression that the Democrat nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass) was going to win the election. Because of that and the semi-close vote in Ohio, many conspiracy theorists say that the election was, once again, "stolen". And, some of the claims are based on. . .bad exit polling data.
Therein lies a huge problem in the American body politic.
There are so many polling organizations out there and each has a "scientific" way of divining the will of the people.
Each major broadcast network does polling, usually with a newspaper. You know, ABC-Washington Post. CBS-New York Times. NBC-Wall Street Journal. Then the news networks also have one. Opinion Dynamics for the Fox News Channel and the granddaddy of pollsters, Gallup for CNN/USA Today. And, lesser newspapers also have polling firms that work with them. And lest we forget the "independent" pollsters like Scott Rasmussen, John Zogby and the like. One election cycle and John Zogby was the go-to guy because of his "accuracy" then the next cycle it is Scott Rasmussen. And on, and on , and on it goes.
The public is all but convinced that the polling data is so accurate that when it goes the other way, then there must be something wrong.
No, that is not the case for there is one thing that all pollsters seem to forget. The most important poll of all is when said voter actually casts their vote in a booth or the privacy of their own home via absentee ballot.
If pollsters were right, the 1980 presidential contest may have turned out more like 2000 as all the major pollsters of the time said that the election was too close to call. Republican Ronald Reagan vanquished President Jimmy Carter taking 44 states and 51% of the vote in a three-man race.
If pollsters were right, there should have been a President Michael Dukakis in 1988. After all, once the respective party nominating conventions were over, then Gov. Dukakis, the Democrat, had a 17 point lead over then Republican Vice-President George H. W. Bush.
But my all-time favorite is the 1982 election for governor of California. It pitted the then mayor of Los Angeles, Democrat Tom Bradley against the Republican state Attorney General, George Deukmejian. Mr. Bradley was black and Mr. Deukmejian was Armenian. All the polling data showed that Mr. Bradley was going to beat Mr. Deukmejian and rather handily. Come election night and all said pollsters still said, based on "exit" polls of voters leaving the voting booth that the election was in the bag for Mr. Bradley. All but one stuck to it. ABC News took a hard look at their data and concluded that Mr. Deukmejian had indeed won the election. The others had to say that it was too close to call. ABC was correct. Why?
Because they were the only ones who accounted that there was something new called absentee balloting. The Republicans took advantage in the liberalizing of how one could obtain an absentee ballot and many of those that requested and received them were Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Deukmejian. And, he needed every vote as he went on to win the governorship by a scant 50,000 plus votes. That election ushered in a 16-year era of Republican governors in Sacramento.
The reality is that polling, for the most part, is a totally inexact science. And, it never really accounts for people telling a pollster what they think they want to hear. And that voters really do change their minds. Voters lie.
Oh, sure, the polling companies make sure to cover themselves with a "margin of error" of anywhere from three to five percent, depending on the sample polled.
It really does not matter.
Next Thursday, thousands of Iowans will go to certain areas of the state and caucus for the candidate they like and that is the first semi-vote. The real vote comes a week later in the snow-driven mountain state of New Hampshire.
No matter what happens I hope that those in each state confound the pollsters and vote the way they want to vote.
That would be one way to get back at the pollsters!