“There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.”
Many current public polling organizations have mastered the art of the liar poll. These polls are designed to reflect a result, so that voters are deceived into believing that certain candidates or issues are winning, when clearly they are not.
The reason this is effective is the same reason the Coliseum was filled when the A’s were winning and nearly everyone in the Bay Area right now is a Giants fan. In politics, as in sports, there is a segment of voters who simply want to be with the winner. It’s the bandwagon effect and the body politic has adopted it as a tactic to win elections.
It wasn’t always that way. But you have been completely misled if you believe the FOX News poll, the Gallup tracking poll, Rasmussen or other “public” indicators of future election results. Rest assured, you are not alone; the 24/7 cable news cycle is replete with this misinformation, as are the national news networks.
Here is the secret to “liar” polls. It depends on whom you are asking. The reason we have huge swings in the data is because every pollster has different criteria for who is a registered voter and who is a likely voter. The Gallup likely voter poll, for instance, represents a universe of voters that mirror the 2010 congressional elections. That election saw an over-representation of elderly, white and angry voters. Thus their current results do not reflect what will certainly be a higher turnout of reasonable and more diverse voters.
To Gallup’s credit, it actually has two national polls. One of likely voters—i.e. the liar poll—and one of registered voters, which is closer to reality but is still heavily weighted to white voters.
The best polls are those the public never sees, unless leaked by campaign operatives to help their candidate. These are the campaigns’ internal polls. These polls are designed to give consultants and their clients a window into the real-time thinking of voters. These polls are for strategic and tactical purposes. They not only tell you where the voters are at any given moment, but who can be persuaded and what persuades them.
The best pollster in the country, in my opinion, is David Binder out of San Francisco. But there are many other research companies that give good results. True professionals would never utilize a “liar” poll except to distract voters from the reality they are losing.
Another myth is the undecided voter. There are no really undecided voters at this point in an election. Nate Silver, a respected poll analyst, has coined the term “elastic voters.” These people are influenced one way or another by events, the media, campaign advertising and other factors of real life. These are the people who really determine the outcome of elections—as most of us lean heavily one way or the other.
A truly undecided voter at this stage in the process is either a liar, lazy, or completely incapable of making a decision. These people should do their country and community a favor and not vote at all.
Elastic voters, on the other hand, have an opinion but can change their mind depending on different circumstances. These are the people who gave President Obama a boost after the Democratic Convention, gave Mitt Romney a boost after the first debate and who, in all probability, will return to support the President now that we’re done with the last two debates.
The problem is that it will take several days for the polling to reflect that reality. News stories will continue to focus on the close contest nationally, which really isn’t that close. But if you really want to know what is happening, check out the blog Five Thirty Eight or Real Clear Politics, though the former is substantially more accurate.
Finally, the effect of liar polls on the local level is negligible. But internal polling is taking place in these local races all the time. These polls are rarely made public and it is often hard to find the source behind the survey if they become known. But they are used to inform the consultants of the messages they need to use on “elastic voters.”
So, when your mail arrives, there is a reason for the messages being used, a direct correlation to what influences the elastic voter. If you are a person who has already decided on whom and what to vote for, chances are you are in the same demographic as the “elastic voter.”
But go ahead and toss the mail away if you already made up your mind; it wasn’t designed for you, and your vote doesn’t matter much anyway. It is the persuadable “elastic” voter who really determines our fate.