As we near the end of the general election (can I have an “Amen!”) it is safe to say that, post-Election Day, no American will yearn for one more political ad, alleged debate, press conference or most of all, one more poll.
For the last two years, it seems that every action, inaction and reaction has been polled.
Opinions, as someone once noted, are like elbows; everyone has a couple and some are sharper than others. We have more than enough polling organizations to accommodate both varieties. We have no shortage of uninformed individuals answering intentionally (and unintentionally) poorly written poll questions, and pollsters who seem to be getting it wrong more often than not.
Consider the late-night TV show host who recently did a “man on the street” type interview with historical questions. Almost everyone had answers and nearly all of them were wrong! My favorite was when they asked what James Madison’s wife’s name was. Most of the interviewees said — with great certainty — that her name was Ashley. Google “Ashley Madison.” She was most certainly not James’ wife.
The pollsters’ predictions are no better than the replies. Polling close to the 2012 election indicated that Mitt Romney would win a narrow victory over Barack Obama. In 2014, polls were certain that Mitch McConnell would lose his Senate seat. That same year, Scotland decided not to divorce itself from Great Britain — despite polls clearly showing the opposite.
This year, the polls made it clear that there was no way our British cousins were going to leave the European Union. Then, of course, Brexit happened.
In February of this year, NPR, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Opinion, issued the results of a survey titled “Patients’ Perspectives on Healthcare in the United States.” Reading through it for nuggets of information became an exercise in frustration.