Monday, April 21, 2008

That old cliché just might be right – “The only poll that matters is Election Day”

I have complained about political polls before, and I likely will continue to do so in the future. The problem isn’t with the polls themselves, but with the people who are trying to interpret them.

Either they are confused as to what a poll means, or they have a predisposition as to what they want it to mean. The most important part of a poll is often not the “final result” of who wins, but the lesser information it can give you about trends and attitudes of voters.

ALL TOO OFTEN, a poll’s results will be used as some sort of “bottom line” to claim the election ought to be over. Take my experience Sunday while watching the dearth of real news on television.

The junk takes over. At one point, I was watching MSNBC as they did a story about a new poll showing Democrat Hillary R. Clinton with a five-point lead over challenger Barack Obama.

In mid-story, I changed the channel to CNN, where I picked up in mid-segment a story about how Democrat Obama was in the lead over Clinton in the latest poll they were giving any credence to.

Someone not paying attention might think that someone was forgetting to take their medication before preparing one version of the story. In all likelihood, though, both are right.

INSOFAR AS THE two poll stories from Sunday are concerned, the MSNBC story was about a poll of likely voters in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. The CNN story was about yet another poll of the nation as a whole.

So it could very well be that Pennsylvania Democrats favor Clinton over Obama, while Democrats across the country would rather see Obama over Clinton.

Insofar as any of the “national” polls are concerned, it is nice to have a sense of the mood of the country. But ultimately, it is irrelevant to the current system of electoral politics.

We don’t have national elections in the United States. We, the people, choose our chief residents of the White House from the combined results of 50 sets of statewide elections. So Obama could very well have a majority of people who would want to identify as Democrat, but not win primaries in enough places so as to kill off the Clinton campaign.

SO INSOFAR AS the Gallup Organization’s latest poll (released Sunday), it shows Obama leading Clinton 47 percent to 45 percent. In and of itself, not terribly significant.

But when compared to the results issued by Gallup just one day earlier (Clinton led Obama 46 percent to 45 percent), it could be interpreted that any loss of support that Obama could have suffered due to debate revelations of his ties to one-time “radicals” against the Vietnam War have gone away.

Perhaps it just isn’t much of an issue to people likely to consider voting in a Democratic primary (since many of them who were old enough to be around for the 1960s likely were those who didn’t approve of U.S. involvement in that war).

To me, that goes along with another Gallup poll the group released last week – one that showed Obama with 51 percent of Democratic voter support both before and after revelations of comments about small-town America that Clinton has interpreted to mean that Obama is an “elitist.”

BY COMPARISON, CLINTON’S support level in that study dropped from 42 percent to 40 percent after she began making her charges.

Does this mean that “the American people” have enough intelligence to realize that these “issues” are nothing more than ridiculous campaign rhetoric that is best not taken seriously, no matter how salaciously it is presented over and over and over on television news broadcasts?

The Pennsylvania poll, conducted by Zogby International, caught me as being more interesting because it showed Clinton only getting 47 percent of support (compared to 42 percent for Obama and the rest still undecided).

With Obama’s lead in delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Clinton needs to administer a butt-whuppin’ on Tuesday. She needs to thoroughly thrash him at the polls so she can take a majority of the 187 delegates that come from Pennsylvania.

IF IT TURNS out that she only gets about 95 delegates, and he gets about 90, then she has failed. There aren’t any more large population states with upcoming primaries or caucuses for her to gain ground. A close Obama loss on Tuesday might as well be an Obama victory.

There’s also the concept that Clinton, in this latest poll, gets less than half of the support of would-be Democrats. So just over one-half want someone other than Hillary to be the Democratic nominee. The only real question for those people is, Should it be Barack?

Or should they engage in some sort of protest vote by staying at home Tuesday and picking nobody?

A 47 percent support level does not sound like that of a campaign that is preparing to administer the thrashing that Clinton needs to keep her presidential dreams alive beyond this week.

BUT IT’S ALSO not likely that anyone is prepared to give up at this point in the campaign. They might as well fight it out to the very end.

So on to Guam, where Democratic Party supporters among the island’s residents will have their only say in the presidential politics in the May 3 caucuses.

Considering that they can’t even vote in the Nov. 4 general elections, who would have ever thought there’d be a day when the people of Guam (and Puerto Rico on June 1) would have a relevant role in deciding who the next president of the United States will be?

That is probably the best evidence of just how bizarre Campaign ’08 has become – truly a race for the history books, regardless of who wins.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Sen. Hillary R. Clinton’s home-state colleague in the Senate, Charles Schumer, is predicting ( a big Pennsylvania win for Clinton – a claim I take about as seriously as if Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., were to predict a “big win” somewhere for Barack Obama.

Obama appears to be viewing the primary season as a basketball game. Rather than beat her convincingly, Obama hopes to ( run down the clock with a lead until Clinton runs out of time to catch up.

Here’s how the Democratic primary fight in Pennsylvania is being viewed in Australia (,21985,23570111-663,00.html) and in ( Great Britain.

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