Does Polling Follow Public Opinion, or Lead It?

Despite the fact that I made up my mind philosophically over 20 years ago how I’m going to vote in the November 6th 2012 election, I have still been watching the voter opinion polls with great interest this month.  From now until the election, I will show the latest Presidential poll averages in the left column of this web page.

The first Presidential debate on Oct 3rd undeniably moved the needle of public opinion.  According to RealClearPolitics, President Obama had a nationwide 4.3% lead on Sept 28th.  Now he trails by 1.3%.

In addition, RCP now predicts Missouri is no longer a toss-up state, but will go for Romney.  And RCP moved 5 states (Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) from the Obama column to the toss-up column.  All told, in 2 weeks this was a 78-vote swing in RCP’s electoral college tally, which now stands at 201 for Obama and 191 for Romney.  270 electoral college votes are needed to win.

RCP’s latest poll averages have 93.3% going for either Obama or Romney, leaving 6.7% undecided or favoring a 3rd party candidate.  However, this percentage is virtually unchanged so far in October.  To me that means there’s a lot of mind CHANGING going on.

What about you?  Please share your thoughts with us here, about yourself and others you know.  Here’s a bunch of questions for you:

At the end of September, were you an undecided voter that’s now made up your mind?  Are you one who’s actually changed your mind?  What prompted your decision?

How firm is your decision?  Have you already voted by absentee ballot?  If you have, what if something emerges in the last two debates that changes your mind?  Would you then hope the Post Office loses your ballot?

As I wrote recently, regardless of how you’re voting I hope the issues and the positions of the Parties and candidates have led you to your decision.  I hope you’re not watching the poll numbers, or listening to the poll questions themselves, to see which way the herd is migrating before making your own copy-cat decision.

In case you don’t think pollsters can and do affect the opinion of voters, take a look at this short scene from the British TV comedy “Yes Prime Minister”:

Speaking of being influenced by polls, did you hear that exit polling — where people are asked as they leave the polling place how they voted and what demographic groups they belong to – will not be done this year in 19 states?  What do you think of this?

Also, my daughter heard in her high school Government class that 8 states have actually banned exit polling, including California.  I could not immediately find confirmation of this.  If you know more about outright banning of exit polling, please share your info with us here.

Frankly, the only voters I truly hope are influenced by the polls are the impractical third party voters.  By the time they actually vote on Nov 6th or earlier, I hope they stop and ask themselves if they’ve seen any evidence whatsoever in the polls that their candidate has a snowflake’s chance in hell of winning.  If not, then instead of throwing their vote away, I hope they actually cast their vote for the REALISTIC choice that they think would be better for the country than the other REALISTIC choice.

My hunch is that Romney and Obama combined will receive at least 96% of all votes cast for President.  What useful point will the other 4% of voters have proved to the 96%, or any elected government people?  I mean, really.

(photo credit)   (photo credit)


About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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6 Responses to Does Polling Follow Public Opinion, or Lead It?

  1. Great article and I shared it on my facebook page. Should be interesting to see how many responses & comments you receive on this subject.


  2. Hello Jeff,

    As you probably could tell from my recent posts on my blog, I am a very decided voter (teehee), and I’ve had my mind made up since late 2009, really. Probably before.

    You ask for my thoughts on the exit polling; or, rather, the lack thereof. I find it interesting…I guess the Democrats want to postpone elation (er, um, disappointment) until the last possible moment. Banning them? I think that’s probably a bit much. Does the First Amendment mean nothing anymore? Logically, the people have already voted, and therefore a poll would not change their opinion. So why ban them? The logic eludes me…

    Having answered the questions, we turn now to the interesting issue of the third-party voters. While I agree with you that they are not doing much good by voting for a candidate who does not have a chance, they are entitled to vote as they choose. After all, it is a free country. A friend of mine recently pointed out that it would be a much better idea for these third party voters, who seek to change the face of government, were to vote in a bloc to install folks that share their views in the House of Representatives, or in the Senate; for, no matter who is in the White House, the checks and balances are still in place that allow Congress to keep at bay the wilder delusions (er, that is, bills and proposals) of the man in the Executive Mansion. This would be a much more effective means of changing the status quo.

    Thanks again for allowing me the opportunity of sharing my thoughts.



  3. You made some good points. Another point I’ve been meaning to make that relates to “leading it”.

    Although I do believe that the answer to your question may depend on the poll, I might suggest that an additional motive might be to change the behavior of the candidates in how they allocate their resources. Just a thought and one which is closely related to “leading it”…


  4. Grumpa Joe says:

    The four percent who throw their votes away know they are doing it. They feel they must vote, but do not like either major party candidate, so cast their ballot away without avoiding their rights to vote. In other words, they don’t feel guilty about not voting, because they did.


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