Committee Of Correspondence

Are Polls Polluting Politics?

Herb Stein
3:37 p.m.  Friday  9/20/96 

       Almost every day one can read the results of polls showing who is ahead in the election race. Concern is now being expressed that this polling is warping the election process and degrading the outcomes. If a poll in September shows Candidate A to be far behind, his funds may dry up, his workers lose energy, his media coverage shrinks and voters pay less attention to what he says and who he is. Consequently, his opportunity to make his case to the public is limited and the voters enter the polls less well informed than they would otherwise have been. Many voters will refrain from voting, thinking the outcome already determined. And all of these consequences may flow from polls that are flawed in various ways as measures of probable election results.
       Is this concern justified? One can imagine other results. The team that is behind may be invigorated to try harder. If the polls show the race to be close, as they sometimes do, both sides may make greater effort to present their views and the media and the public may pay more attention.
       If the concern is justified, what can or should be done about it? The polls are information. Would there be justification for suppressing this information?