The Power of the Poll

Barack Obama takes the lead
Barack Obama takes the lead

In recent polls, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has retaken the lead over his Republican opponent John McCain.  Every since Obama and McCain have been declared the presumptive nominees for their respective parties, a projected lead has been tossed around to either side.  And of course that’s dependent on which poll you’re reading at the time.  Once you include the selection of the vice-presidential candidates and the party conventions, the lead changes have become more rapid.

CNN’s latest polls have Obama with a one-point lead, while a CBS/New York Times poll has Obama by a larger margin.  Just a couple of weeks ago, after the Democratic Convention, McCain announced his running mate Sarah Palin and an immediate surge happened with his campaign.  Palin, who now being called by some to be more popular than either of the candidates, has indeed created a spark.  But many thought that spark wouldn’t carry, to even have the likes of Republican strategist Karl Rove say the Palin buzz would fade.  So after much other controversy from lipstick on a pig, to troopergate, to earmarks, the post vice-presidential and convention time is the meat of how we’re able to tell what we’re going to get from our two candidates.  The polls have reflected that feeling and change, but how well can we depend on polls?

Well if simply looking at the history of accuracy of what polls normally represent, they should suggest that it’s a good predictor of an outcome.  Polls, such as Gallop or Harris for example, take a scientific and specific selection of people, whereas if you multiplied it you’d essentially get a representation of every demographic of America.  So it’s easy to say that whatever polls show would most likely be correct, but the process is not full-proof.  A couple of the more respected polls totally got it wrong with the election between Thomas Dewey and Harry Truman.  Not only that, but you also have to account for any types of sampling error. 

But to what affect can all of this have on the public.  There is evidence to suggest that polls have a certain influence on people.  When people see the intentions or how the voting will likely go down, they can have an affect of people voting the way the majority will vote, or even create sympathy votes for that matter.  Also, there is another group of people who may feel that because their chosen candidate seems to be a lock, then they don’t have to vote.  But that might not turn out how they’d want it either.

Not for nothin’, but in this hotly contested race the winner will likely be declared in the fashion of the election back in 2000 where George Bush triumphed over Al Gore.  In the current polls over the last couple of months, neither candidate has had a significant lead, no more that five percent in most cases.  But that five percent is all but cancelled out when you factor in the margin of error.  Each campaign has their own base of followers and excitement.  It looks as if an equal amount of our country wants either one to win.  With less than 50 days to go, this election is possibly still at 50-50.

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