The Absurdity of Polls

Political polling used to be—or perhaps I’m just imagining things—confined to election years. Once it was discovered, however, that the results of a poll could themselves make a story rather than simply support one pollsters found themselves employed during the years between elections. And so this morning we have an article from the Times titled "Poll Finds Lack of Passion for Republican Candidates."  

These are, for the journalist who must write them, easy articles to whip up on a moment’s notice, following, as they do, an entirely predictable form.  It starts with the obligatory pronouncement about how the Iowa caucuses are a year away. This accomplished, there is the repetition of the conventional wisdom about why no Republican candidate has endeared him or herself to primary voters: the culprit, epiphany of epiphanies, is the late primary season.  Next, Mr. Rutenberg, the article’s author, gages the prospects of candidates based on their favorability ratings. We learn once again that American voters do not know Mr. Pawlenty. Nor do they know Mr. Barbour, or Ms. Bauchmann, Mr. Daniels, or Mr. Santorum. The moral of the story, I suppose, is that as long as they remain unknown we are unlikely to vote them. I concur.

There are four potential candidates the poll determined the American public did know: Mr. Romney, Ms. Palin, Mr. Huckabee, and Mr. Trump. We learn—once again—of Sarah Palin’s very high “negatives”:  55 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of the Governor. One can only imagine, once Ms. Bauchmann makes her debut—I mean one not on Fox— the high unfavorability ratings awaiting her.

After the results of the poll are done with, Mr. Rutenberg takes care to issue the disclaimer that the unknown candidates might become known during the course of the race, though he offers us no solace by suggesting that some of the known candidates might return to being unknown.