Thursday, October 16, 2008

Snap Polls Stop Talking Heads

I have something good to say about polls this morning.

Normally, I dislike polls and poll-watching. Tracking Gallup and Rasmussen is like watching the scoreboard at a football game, instead of the action in front of you. Worse, it's like watching multiple scoreboards at a game, with each scoreboard purporting to report on the same action, but each reporting different scores. They swagger into the room full of concrete factuality and then change shape overnight. They are untrustworthy and distracting.

But polls are not half as untrustworthy and distracting as post-debate spinmeisters on television. Nothing on earth could shake these determined partisans from declaring their favored candidate as the winner. If one candidate had soiled himself and admitted that he tortures kittens, these scurrilous asses would soberly intone that it was a great moment, and that it was a brilliant outreach to American dog lovers. The first 15 minutes of coverage after a debate are a stomach-churning display of lying scumbags willing to say absolutely anything to make it seem like their candidate won.

Snap polls, though, are changing the role of post-debate spin, and that's a good thing. In past years, the partisans who spoke loudest and most enthusiastically in the locker rooms were declared the winners. 8 short years ago, Gore was declared the loser of a debate that surveys showed he had won, all because the Republican spinmeisters did a masterful job of arguing that the American people were more concerned with sighs than substance. The day of the snap poll, with results charting average voters' instant reactions to the debate available within minutes of the debate's close, had not yet arrived.

Snap polls are the silver lining to the cloud of election polls. They actually stand for something, because they measure a real reaction to a real phenomenon. Election polls, on the other hand, are pitched differently - they are presented as a preview of the final election, when, in fact, they are snapshots of a single moment.

In the face of a snap poll, talking heads are reined in. It doesn't do any good to claim that my candidate dominated the debate if we're going to hear a few minutes later that the polls reflect the opposite. During those 15 or so minutes, the spinmeisters are exposed as what they truly are - shills filling time.

Sadly, the shills don't even seem to realize how marginalized they are, and how out-of-step they are with America. Nothing I could dream up to illustrate my point could rival this reaction posted on the National Review's website last night, by somebody who is actually paid for her opinions:

"I Just Don't Get
any of the insta polls, which seem to give it to Obama."

Indeed you don't Kathryn, and indeed they do.



Blogger les said...

You hit it, both ways--the endless horse race reporting on minute moves in polls is useless; but the instant polls' knockout of the spinners is a wonderful thing. And don't worry about K. Lo; she's used to being ignorant, and it beats her usual state of being wrong.

10/16/2008 9:22 AM  
Anonymous GMC70 said...

On the contrary, Dan, with due respect, the "instant polls" are the evils of polls on steroids. They are polling/political equivalent of "it's got a good beat, and it's easy to dance to, Dick. I'll give it a 92."

No thought, instant response, without any reflection. I, for one, want to hear the talking heads; I'm smart enought differentiate between those I agree with, and those I don't, and often hear a perspective different than mine.

The polls serve the "winner" (whatever that means), by reinforcing a bandwagon effect, but they add nothing to what we learn from these debates (which frankly isn't much). But they have little if any positive value to the body politic. They are useful only in that they serve the media's endless need for something to fill the 24 hour news channel with something.

10/16/2008 2:44 PM  
Blogger les said...

No thought, instant response, without any reflection. I, for one, want to hear the talking heads; I'm smart enought differentiate between those I agree with, and those I don't, and often hear a perspective different than mine.

I don't say this to be offensive; but anyone can differentiate between those they agree with and those they don't. The problem is the pundits and talking heads presented as journalists or analysts, who are really representing a side or agenda and distorting what actually happened. I'm still willing to listen to actual analysts, and I sometimes hear a valuable perspective; but it's much harder for the spinners to warp the story of what actually happened, because we do have the contemporaneous reactions of hundreds of people.

10/17/2008 9:20 AM  
Anonymous GMC70 said...

les, les, les -

There ARE NO independent "analysts;" EVERYONE is spinning with an agenda. Including Dan. Hell, perhaps especially Dan. We all understand that the 'independent' analysts aren't, that they are serving an agenda. But the spinners, agenda or not, reveal something.

The instant polls reveal snap judgements, based upon who's makeup looked good, or myriad other goofy things. What do the polls tell me that is useful for processing and using whay I have just watched?


Ideally, we'd abolish all polling, but then . . . oh well, I can dream . . .

10/20/2008 12:37 AM  
Blogger les said...

I think you miss my point. Back when we used to have journalists, there may have been some neutrals; now we have "analysts," shills and hacks, for the most part. And it's not like the pundits sit back and digest what happened--their line is ready to go before the event. To me the snap polls are a view from a group whose axes to grind are personal, not paid, and whose responses may be spontaneous.

An example--in the long ago, before the stealing of the 2000 election, Gore won a debate--in hindsight, how else?--but before the media had its sound bites, it was spun to have turned on alleged sighs and was a victory for the Deciderer to be. I think that would be much tougher to do now, because the spin would have to contradict actual data from watchers, not just leap into a vacuum.

10/20/2008 10:19 AM  
Anonymous GMC70 said...

" . . . before the stealing of the 2000 election . . . "

Well, that explains it. And all this time I though I was writing in response to a rational person.


10/22/2008 8:24 AM  

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