As election day drew near and my stress level increased, I took a great deal of comfort from visiting the fivethirtyeight.com website. This is considered the poll of polls. Nate Silver combines a wide spectrum of sources to reach kind of an aggregate on his website. And right up to the big day, he predicted that Hillary Clinton had at least a 30 percent chance of beating Donald Trump.
Well, so much for that. Now there’s this huge retroactive scramble to try to figure out why all the opinion polls got it so wrong. Did a large number of undecided voters cast their lot with Trump at the very last minute? Did people who had every intention of voting for Trump lie to pollsters because they were too ashamed to admit their decision? We’ll probably never know for sure.
But here’s what I’d dearly like to know: how many people didn’t bother to vote because they saw these opinion polls and figured their desired outcome would come about without them having to get their lazy butts off their respective couches? Poll that, if you will.
I really can see the value of opinion polls for the people running campaigns. It helps them determine where they should focus their efforts, and what issues appear to be most important to the people. But, more and more, I believe that the results of opinion polls should not be revealed to the general public prior to the election.
Opinion polls have entirely too much influence on elections. I’m sure that a certain percentage of people cast votes based solely on what they deem to be popular consensus. Others, as stated above, don’t vote if they think their candidate will win anyway. Still others will vote, when they wouldn’t have otherwise, if they think their candidate is falling behind.
But here’s my biggest reason for distrusting opinion polls: No one has ever polled me. Not once. When you conduct a poll, here are the metrics: Your results will be based on the responses given by the people you poll. And by process of elimination, that means that your results will NOT be based on the opinions of the people you don’t or are unable to poll.
No one asked me. Who else didn’t they ask? So in truth, opinion polls mean absolutely nothing. And yet they have this insane impact.
So here’s a thought: Ban public disclosure of opinion poll results prior to the election’s outcome. And for that matter, ban exit polls, and even revealing individual state results until ALL polling places are closed. Make voting mandatory, as they do in Australia. And get rid of the electoral college. Only when you do these three things will you truly be able to say, “The people have spoken.”
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