Jonah Goldberg

It's very rare to hear a politician with public opinion on his side say, "I don't believe in polls." It's only when the public disagrees with him that a pol will say polls "don't mean anything." This is especially true during elections. A candidate down in the polls will either dismiss polls as "meaningless" or cite some minor finding - a huge surge among diabetics named Todd - as proof of underlying momentum. But once the polls - or even a show of hands at the local Jiffy Lube - favor him, suddenly the polls are divine.

And I don't use the word "divine" lightly. Because it is a bedrock article of faith among the political classes that the authentic voice of the people is sacrosanct, and the polls are the modern equivalent of oracular goat entrails. Even if 65 percent of the people say a policy stinks worse than a dead aardvark wrapped in old socks, those who benefit from the policy will say the question was worded "misleadingly" - even if the question is asked point blank: "Yes or no: Do you think such-and-such stinks worse than a dead aardvark wrapped in old socks?"

The reason: Politics is a people-pleasing business, and the customers are always right. Oh, sure, many on the right are happy to say the gay-tree-hugging-peaceniks are wrong. (I know, I know, here comes the e-mail: "Why are you afraid of gay trees? You're an arboreal homophobe.") And many on the left are perfectly comfortable saying the evolution-denying-warmongers are wrong. But this is usually because these politicians don't need many of "those people" to win, and vice versa.

But "the people" qua "the people" are never wrong.

And yet, this is flatly untrue. The people are often wrong. And I don't mean this solely in an ideological or partisan sense. I mean it in terms of cold, hard fact. According to the polls, "the people" are liars. Big, fat, honking liars. Just one example among many: John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960 with 49.7 percent of the vote. This is as close as we get to a historical fact. Indeed, that might overestimate things, since many believe Kennedy stole (i.e. invented) votes in Illinois and Texas. Yet, as Bob Dole might say, "whatever." By 1963, 59 percent of Americans told pollsters they voted for him. And after JFK's death, 65 percent claimed to have done so (much like the huge numbers of French who remembered fighting for the resistance only years after the war ended).

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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