Thursday, December 6, 2007


In class Wednesday, Professor Potter mentioned that during the1980’s polling had reached its peak. In What I Saw at the Revolution, I noticed that Peggy Noonan frequently discussed the rise in importance and presence of pollsters in politics. Noonan stated, “Polls are the obsession of every modern… political professional, Republican and Democratic” (pg. 249). Noonan felt frustrated by the intrusion of polls onto her speech writing, especially in regard to abortion. Her advisors kept telling her to remove the anti-abortion language from Reagan’s speeches because the anti-abortion stance did not reflect the will of the people according to the polls. Noonan responded that opinion polling may be a new “sophisticated tool” to help leaders understand how the nation feels about an issue, but it should not determine what issues the leader decides to fight for. Noonan contended, “Being led by the polls isn’t practical….The fact is it’s practical to do what you think is right and keep talking to the people honestly about it” (pg 251).
To me, Noonan presented a stronger argument against polls then simply the president should stick to his morals and stances despite their unpopularity when she raised the issue of the unreliability of poll results. She gave an example of a pollster presenting the question of how to solve the drug problem to the average American. She argued that citizens will give their opinions on the issue, but without a firm belief in their own knowledge about the background of the problem and that they would be shocked if they found out their answers had any weight in determining policy. She also discredited polls by saying sometimes the individuals felt forced to give an opinion even when they didn’t have one and that often what citizens said was just a regurgitation of “momentary swirls of culture and style and what they heard on TV” (pg. 251). I do not think Noonan argued enough the extent to which polls can be destructive in politics. Due to sampling errors, manipulative word choice, and coverage bias, the ill effects of polling have become increasingly obvious. During the past presidential elections, Americans, especially conservatives, have become increasing skeptical of the exit poll and are more often refusing to answer the pollster therefore skewing those included in the sampling and the results. The problem of relying on exit polls for accurate information became obvious in Florida in the 2000 presidential election when Al gore was proclaimed the victor and then had the victory recanted (though the validity of that is debatable). In 2004, the exit polls again mislead the public by indicating that John Kerry had a much larger lead then he did. In a New York Times Article about Warren Mitofsky, the man who designed the exit polling system, Mitofsky claimed that the method wasn’t the problem but that people misused the system. I think exit polls have been misused because the methods can so easily be manipulated.

Margaret Hannay

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