Every week it seems a new poll about the 2016 presidential candidates is released which predicts the current preferences and predilections of the American public. Usually paid for and sold by the media as news, polls appear to be wielding greater influence over elections in recent years, from affecting public perception and discourse to determining the participants and stage placement in the presidential debates. But amidst the confusing percentages and sheer number of polls out there, it’s rare for anyone to ask why we are so obsessed with the polls in the first place.
The point of a poll is to ask us what we think about a given topic and then place that answer within the context of other answers, giving us a neat little graph in which we can compare our normality. We like to place other people in neatly labelled boxes, so why not ourselves? We are able to see exactly where we stand compared to the rest of society, and whether our views are generally considered acceptable. Maybe then the reason we follow polls is because we are using them to help define our sense of self.
There is so much information about how unreliable and inaccurate polls are becoming, from outdated sampling methodologies to lower rates of response, to the bias of the questions and the truthfulness of respondents, to name a few. But it’s easy to see why politicians are obsessed with polls. They use them as a legitimizing function, as a measure of their own popularity as well as an insight into the opinions of their constituency. The problem becomes when politicians use polls to supplement their own judgement, to the point where the measuring stick becomes the vehicle driving policy. So maybe we should stop complaining so much about the polls since we are all to blame for our own obsession. And maybe our New Year resolution should be to go polled turkey and keep our thoughts to ourselves.
Want to go polled turkey this Christmas? Movie for your mood: Love Actually. Because of that song.