Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


If the Presidential election were held today, it might end up in a worse muddle than Bush-Gore in 2000. Gallup tells us Hillary Clinton can beat any Republican, while Zogby reports she is trailing five of them in their polling.

With a year to go, it's safe to say Americans are undecided--safe but how useful? With a flood of statistics from all directions, nationally and in early primary states, are polls turning the process into a numbers game that obscures the issues?

If that sounds stuffy, or even Luddite, consider the checkered history of Presidential polls. In 1936, the Literary Digest famously predicted Alf Landon would beat FDR, but he lost every state except Maine and Vermont. The mistake was asking voters who had cars and telephones, not a fair cross-section of the whole population back then.

Sampling is more sophisticated now but on election night 2000, we were whipsawed by exit polls from the Voters News Service that reported Gore winning Florida and the White House and then maybe not.

What can we believe? Gallup polls by phone, Zogby "surveys individuals who have registered to take part in online polls," but does it make any difference?

What does matter is that politicians and public may be getting too mesmerized by the numbers and, based on their fallible evidence, making "electability" the main issue instead of substantive differences among the candidates.

Those who like horse races can get a better run for their money at the race track rather than the voting booth.

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