Republican operatives here and across the country are using polling numbers to create the story of an upcoming GOP landslide in Tuesday’s election, gloating and swaggering about the upcoming Democratic doomsday.
The celebrations seem to have already begun for Republicans.
It’s a story that can be self-fulfilling if Democrats don’t show up to vote Tuesday because they’re discouraged or they think their votes won’t matter. This is how the GOP wants it, but it only happens if Democrats buy into the narrative.
It’s important to remember polls have been notoriously wrong in recent years. Two examples, one nationally, one locally, come to mind.
In 2004, after the Democratic convention, polls showed John Kerry with as high as a 6 percent lead over George Bush in the presidential race. We know how that race turned out. Bush won the popular vote by 2.5 percent despite predictions that Kerry would win.
Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, pictured right, in her recent run against Attorney General Drew Edmondson in the Democratic gubernatorial primary had to deal with media fallout after a poll showed her behind by a 16 percent margin right before the election. We know how that race turned out, too. Askins won.
Here’s a study that shows how some polls were fundamentally inaccurate during the California recall election. It’s not reassuring that two of the most inaccurate pollsters were Time/CNN and Gallup, according to the study.
So why do polling operations continue to produce so much inaccurate information?
Political polling in recent years has become a part of the overall problem with our broken political system. A poll creates a narrative, and sometimes it’s a narrative of wishful thinking, not reality. Couple this with the failure of the mainstream media to vet polling companies or hold them accountable, and what you get, at best, is something less than reliable or, at worst, a complete fiction helping a particular campaign. Media companies and polling operations have a symbiotic relationship that is more often based on the profit motive rather than accuracy.
There remain many questions. How transparent are polling operations? What about the growing number of household without landline telephones? Are cell phones getting called? Are there records that prove this? What about people with cell phones that have area code numbers that don’t correspond to the place in which live? How do “landslide” polls affect voter turnout?
All this leads us to recent poll numbers that show Askins is trailing U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin in the governor's race by 18 and 19 percent. Askin’s campaign, of course, has pointed to the previous poll numbers that were wrong and rightfully so.
But I think it’s also fundamentally unfair for the local media, without more qualification or without more verification, to report these poll numbers just few days before the election. It can discourage people from participating in the political process, and it cuts both ways with Democrats and Republicans in any given election year.