October, 2003. The place: the cavernous underground hallways that connect the major administrative buildings in DC. It's here, that the pollsters par excellence hunch over their bratwurst and engage in conversations that threaten the very balance of power of the republic. Everywhere you look, wild packs of cardigan wearing demographics experts are loitering around, peppering their conversation with inane slogans (e.g., "preliminary evaluation to date reveals it's not the tax plan. It's the proclivity for slobbering, stupid," "we gotta saturate the airwaves and go for the throat" and "trust me babe.")
Election cycle must be kicking in.
After a while, you actually start to feel sorry for the pollsters. Professional mandate requires them to lock their own opinions away in the dark recesses of their subconscious. They exist to give life to your ideas. They compile your opinions, and suddenly your opinions exist. They are ruthlessly dedicated to the other-other's thoughts, other's ideas. Their own "selves" are constantly undermined by the requirements of the job. It's a socially shrunken existence. And this time of year you can't throw a stone without hitting one of these creatures. (note to reader: if you throw it, throw it hard)
In any regard, this seems an appropriate time to ask, do polls have genuine meaning? Should they merit our consideration? Are they biased? (After all, pollsters are paid by a client with an agenda. Does this provide some room for subjectivity to sneak in?
"Of course polls can be biased," admits Jon McHenry, a pollster with the Northern Virginia polling company, Ayres, McHenry & Associates, Inc. "It¹s a lot easier to write questions that present only the point of view of your own side than it is to put careful consideration into a balanced question that includes the best arguments of both sides." Mc Henry tacks on an addendum about locking away personal biases in order to provide clients with objective survey material. Either way, it's still the pollsters who give meaning to the political landscape. They distill incredibly complex issues into easily digestible numbers that spare us the burden of closely examining the world around us. In the extreme Clitnonesque example, it's the poll numbers that decide the political decisions that have the greatest impact on our lives. The representative democracy wags the politician. The politician is reduced to virtual leader. (Could this explain our enduring affection for President Clinton? That he was such a willing and jovial receptacle for our opinions?)
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