Why do we have elections when we have pollsters?


The presidential election is officially set, the pollsters are working overtime, and the Middle East is in turmoil, again. Your unanswerable questions have again been posed, and our unfathomable answers have again been made up.

Question: I’m confused by the presidential election. All summer the pollsters told us it was very close between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Then they said Obama had a big lead, and now it is a bit closer. Do voters change their minds that easily?

Answer: Most voters have already decided, making up their minds shortly after birth. But some voters do not live and breathe politics and may not make up their minds until very late, or not vote at all. It is these voters, or the small sample of such citizens unlucky enough to pick up the phone when the pollster calls, who move the results around.

Q: So you are saying that the polls aren’t accurate?

A: They are as accurate as they can be given the shortcomings of the methodology and the fluidity of opinion. And they are always subject to the fact that some respondents have only one goal: Getting off the phone as quickly as they can so they can finish watching that “30 Rock” rerun.

Q: So they’ll say anything?

A: They’re getting an early start celebrating National Lie to Pollsters Month.

Q: The polls attributed Obama’s recent strength to something called a Convention Bounce. What is that?

A: That is the notion held by pundits and handlers that voters are swayed by the four-day infomercials that pass for nominating conventions these days. It requires us to believe that voters who have spent six years watching Barack Obama and Mitt Romney didn’t know enough about them until the conventions.

Q: But they didn’t know Clint Eastwood could lose a debate to an empty chair or that Bill Clinton really wishes the 22nd Amendment hadn’t passed. Couldn’t that make a difference?

A: Perhaps. Which means, of course, that the election could be determined by voters who not only watch the political conventions but are persuaded by them. And may God have mercy on our souls.

Q: What did Americans do before the age of constant polling?

A: They actually waited until Election Day to see who was going to win. I know, weird. But the lack of polling produced a more-leisurely election and led to headlines like “Dewey defeats Truman,” which was news to everyone, except President Dewey. In the meantime, reporters had to spend those long days listening to what the candidates had to say and reporting it rather than the latest poll.

Q: Sounds kind of boring. And what did the voters do?

A: They lived their lives.

Q: So some things never change. I can’t believe a bunch of people in the Middle East are mad at us because of a stupid video produced by one goofball. Don’t they know all the things we’ve done for them?

A: Apparently the “Why You Should Love America” video hasn’t shown up on YouTube yet. The video that triggered the attacks on U.S. embassies and the deaths of four diplomats didn’t cause hatred of America, it only revealed it. Again. Some of the reasons are religious, but some are economic and geopolitical.

Q: But President Romney will fix all that, right?

A: Yes, just as soon as he makes Clint Eastwood secretary of state and Ted Nugent secretary of defense.

Q: I keep hearing about mythical places where the candidates actually care what the voters think, where they visit often, where they kiss every baby in the land and spend millions on campaign ads that make local TV stations wealthy and their viewers nauseous. Do such places really exist?

A: Yes, they do, and they’re called Battleground States —and yours is not one of them. But be careful what you wish for. Sure, the candidates listen to voters in states like Ohio and Florida and North Carolina, but they just won’t leave them alone.

Q: I think I’ll stay here in the backwaters. What time is “30 Rock” on?

Peter Callaghan can be reached at peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com


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