Is the age of political polling dead?
Not if one considers the record number of surveys being disseminated to the public. What polling has lost, however, is the credibility that its numbers reflect a true measure of public mood, which begs the question of whether polls today are worth anything at all.
Like the news itself, polls have become fractured as voters search for results that verify their own preferences. People don’t like disagreeable news. They like disagreeable theory even less, which is why the first instinct of many poll-watchers is not to see the result but to spot which agency took the poll - and often, which side the agency is on.
In its best days, political surveys were contained an unscientific element. Today, the old-style way to canvas voters by calling them on land lines is obviously obsolete, and pollsters have struggled to adapt their techniques to modern cellphone reliance, social media and shifting demographics.
There’s another variable that no data service can control: the voters themselves. It might help explain why so many recent pre-election polls in the United States and Britain have been wrong, almost always by underestimating the conservative right.
Many voters find polls a nuisance, a distraction or even an intrusion into their privacy. Many won’t participate. It’s likely some even answer untruthfully, just to throw a wrench into a process they distrust or find prying.
That’s one way to explain why the results from agencies with liberal reputations often tilt to the left, while those from right-wing sources favor conservative views.
Politicians use polls to plan campaign strategy and often to craft policy.
Polls will never disappear, but rather than question whether they should exist, media and voters should take them for what they are worth - adjuncts to real news rather than news themselves.