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Politics and Economy:
John Ridley on the Polling, the Public, and the Politicians

There's nothing politicians love more than surrounding themselves with the American people. Every time they open their mouths they're yattering about how "the American people" are demanding this, or the "American people" want that. But as a real live member of the American public, I'm always curious as to how these cats sequestered in Washington know with such exactitude what "we" really want.

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John Ridley
John Ridley
on Polling and Politics

Polls. Opinion polls. From newspapers to news shows to special interest lobbyists, everybody's got a collection stats to back their assertions on what the people want from our government and how the people wanna get it. No self-respecting politico would think of climbing up on their soap box without an opinion poll to use as a safety net. Which is okay, since polls are supposedly a scientifically collected sample of what you and I and that woman over there are really thinking.


But if these polls are an accurate snapshot of exactly what's going on in our heads, then how come there always seems to be a bunch of other polls that just as accurately support the other guy's opposing position? How accurate are these polls anyway? To me, that "plus or minus" margin of error is just a fancy way of saying; "we could be right, but we might be wrong." And I hate to be a whistle blower, but as a guy who used to work for a polling organization, I can tell you data on the public opinion of important issues shouldn't be collected by people just out of college making five bucks an hour who couldn't care less about accuracy and are just killing time 'til they make it in showbiz.

Truth is, I've never been a fan of the concept of polls; the idea of being reduced to a member of the collective consciousness. Yeah, all of us in this country share general concerns. But does a flat percentage answer to a broad based question really reflect the views of a politically liberal, fiscally conservative African-American man married to an Asian-American woman making a living in Hollywood? Not anymore than it does the politically conservative, fiscally libertarian European woman married to a Middle-Eastern guy living in Iowa. So, really, all these polls are nothing more than numeric excuses for politicians to say what they want and claim they're listening to what we say so they can tell us what we think we want to hear. But that's just my opinion . . . plus or minus five percent.

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