Friday, April 06, 2007

No More Polls, Please!

The deluge of presidential polls is such a phenomenal waste of time for a couple of reasons. First, spare me the national polls. We do not elect a president by popular vote. The only value in national polling is to get a sense of where people stand in the aggregate.

The second problem with polls this far out is that they do a poor job of predicting actual voter behavior. Now, I am sure you think my problem lies with the time aspect alone. But that is not the case. The underlying problem is that such a high percentage of each sample is what can be called low information voters. Because we are so far away from the actual election, people are not devoting the resources to decision making that they will six or seven months from now.

The poll numbers of Clinton and McCain are clear examples of this effect. These low information voters make their judgments now based on limited knowledge and understanding of each candidate and her/his positions. Clinton's current support is a product more of her name recognition than her positions. People associate Hillary with liberal positions and fighting Republicans. I would argue that many of the current Hillary supporters do not know her position on Iraq (w/r/t leaving 75,000 troops in the region) or her corporatism.

The perception of McCain, on the other hand, is one of opposing other Republicans and Bush in particular. The fact that he has one of the most conservative records in the Senate is obscured by his association with attempts to ban torture and reform campaign finance.

As voters consume and process more information about each candidate, Clinton and McCain ought to be on different trajectories, at least within their party's primaries and caucuses. Republicans will realize that McCain is more conservative than Giuliani and adjust their support accordingly. While Democrats will come to see the cleavage between Hillary and the grassroots' positions. That is not to say that McCain will be the nominee and Clinton will fail. Just that logic dictates a reversal of fortunes, with respect to their current standing.

And that is why I don't get excited about polls.


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