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OPINION

The Stupidity of Polls

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Polling has proven itself to be just this side of useless when it comes to electoral politics – remember President Hillary Clinton and the “Red Wave” that swept Congress last year? But pollsters need to eat, and the media has an insatiable desire to create new rather than do actual journalism, so polls are created, conducted and reported as if they are a reflection of anything other than the thoughts in that moment of random people who likely don’t pay attention to anything. And politicians will clownishly clamor to position themselves in front of whatever parade those polls claim to have discovered.

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It’s beyond stupid.

If you’re reading this, you and your knowledge base are lightyears ahead of the average American. I’m not saying this to butter you up or get you to subscribe to my podcast (though you totally should because it’s awesome and free), I’m telling you this because it’s true. Most American do not read or watch news, they don’t read opinion columns, listen to podcasts, watch cable news, etc. They have other priorities. 

I know that sounds odd to people who care, but it’s true – most Americans do not care. They don’t care about the Constitution, they don’t care what Congress is doing, they don’t care what the President said. With that in mind, they don’t know what the government is doing – federal, state or local – they don’t know what some multibillion-dollar company is trying to sell to kids, or teachers are talking about in front of their first graders. That sounds odd, even impossible to those of us who do know and care, but it is absolutely true.

The sooner you recognize and accept that, the better chance you have of retaining your sanity.

The “news” business should really have the “business” part in scare quotes. No, they rarely do news reporting anymore – replacing investigating with repurposing press releases and repeating rumors whispered over drinks from interested parties. They are a business. And as a business, it is their fiduciary duty to maximize profits. 

There are two ways these companies can maximize profits: attract as large of an audience as possible or cultivate a loyal audience and cater to them expressly. Literally no outlet has opted for the first choice.

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If, under the banner of news, you operate in a way to maintain your audience’s loyalty you will do nothing that could possibly irritate them or cause them to leave. Though, occasionally, they do stupid things like firing Tucker Carlson, most entities aren’t dumb enough to rock their own boats like that. Joy Reid’s continued employment with no discernible skills, knowledge or talent is a prime example.

All you get is choir-preaching, not news delivery. 

There is very little news, in fact, delivered in your average hour of cable news. You get topics with very little information about them, then a “discussion” between people who likely agree and simply try to out-do one another. So much of cable news is now the host of the show on at the moment talking to the host of another show on the network about whatever it is trending on social media at that moment. 

They’ve become second-tier social media influencers – teenage girls with make-up tips who spend their time redoing what the more popular accounts have done, hoping to get more subscribers. 

Lost in the shuffle is any desire to inform an audience. How many decades do you think it’s been since someone walked away from watching CNN better informed about the world? 

That brings us back to polling. 

The great Rush Limbaugh used to talk about how some polls were conducted for the express purpose of creating what could be passed off as news. Of course, he was right. They were usually ridiculous in topic and questions. Well, now that’s pretty much all of them.

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Polling about an election more than a year away is worthless, but it fills time. Polling about primaries seven months away are worthless, but they help create narratives. If polls were an accurate reflection of anything other than the opinions of the people polled at that exact moment, Howard Dean would’ve been elected in 2004 and history would be wildly different. 

But history isn’t different, history is history. And it didn’t start yesterday. How many years of polling being wildly inaccurate must we suffer through before news outlets stop pushing them? Well, the answer is they will never stop as long as the choir – their audience – doesn’t mind being preached about anything other than actual news, and the tip of that ignorance spear is polling…at least according to a majority of registered voters. 

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