Pollsters And Their Polls: Ouija Board or Political Science?

America doesn’t know it yet, but we’ve truly become the “sleeping awake,” tucked inside our cozy little Matrix pods as the Powers That Be funnel information, analysis, and fun daily activity our way. There may be no black trench coats (damn!) but with their help, we’re allowed to experience life through the virtual world of media spin, factual revisionism, historical manipulation, and spoon-fed analysis, removing the burden of all that messy, self-generated thought.

I’m talking about polling. Pollsters. Those Who Tell Us What We Think, What’s Happening, and What Will Happen … most likely … maybe. They’re everywhere, pollsters, used by everyone, and, frankly, they’re sucking the energy out of the room. Because with their announcements of “what’s really happening” on a day-by-day basis (sometimes minute by minute), we’re denied the empowerment of our own conclusions. We experience an event, watch the news, talk to the people we talk to, and form our subsequent opinions, only to wake to pollsters handing us a completely different analysis of the day. And of course they’re right because they’re … pollsters.

Ever hear the term, “a watched pot never boils?” Meaning that, constant analysis doesn’t actually make anything happen – or true – it just gives the watcher a false sense of being on top of things … in case something does happen. It’s a delusional and exhausting activity; a placebo for the impatient who don’t have the good sense to differentiate when it’s time to act, time to analyze, or time to just go about life without chattering commentary from the sidelines.

But that’s the entire mission statement of pollsters and their polls: chattering commentary that tells us what some people think, mixed with their own analysis of what might happen based on what those selected people think.

The problem with all this prognostication is that its implications negate our own perceptions, our own sense of things; suggest we are impotent to have an impact. Its message is: it doesn’t matter how you feel, what vote you place, or which idea you support, we already know. Don’t bother thinking, don’t waste your energy on a losing candidate, a losing proposition, just rely on us to point the way.

I swear pollsters are why we have so damn many Undecideds!

Pollsters are, in fact, like Ed Harris in The Truman Show: changing sets to affect the desired mood, choosing characters to influence the plot, and moving roads signs to surreptitiously guide where we “ought” to go. And as Truman learned during his own transformation, we shouldn’t trust them.

Because they’re not trustworthy. They don’t always get it right. In most cases we don’t know who they are, who they’re talking to, or what questions they ask. No idea. We do know they can slant a question to induce a certain answer. We do understand that demographics can be chosen for their more predictable response. And the very dynamics of an “uncontrolled experiment,” which is what a non-scientific poll is, lend it little or no credibility beyond that of a Ouija Board.

So for the curiosity – perhaps panic – of those who indulge in the parlor game of polling, the rest of us are bombarded with constant comment. We’re told this morning, for example, that Mitt’s ahead by 6 points but, of course, that Gallup poll was taken before the last debate so it’s likely the Obama “bump” was not factored in, so the poll-takers who answered the pollsters’ questions might actually have expressed a different view in light of the debate and subsequent events, giving the answers they provided less credibility.

Get all that? Yeah…dizzying.

Step away from the polls. Ignore them. They mean nothing. They’re simply the watched-pot dust-kicking of anxious, terrified, panicked political operatives sitting in the I.C.Us of their particular campaigns looking for any sign that their guy will pull through. Leave them be. Let them ask the same questions 87 different ways if that’s what calms their terror. The rest of us know all this overwrought pulse-taking has no bearing on survival rates, no impact on outcome. It’s simply their version of worry beads, rabbit tails; lucky socks. It keeps them from running around the cafeteria screaming about cold coffee and the unfairness of life, and the rest of us – most of whom have never been asked a polling question in our entire lives – can just proceed: making up our own minds and letting life actually happen.

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on TwitterFacebook and Rock+Paper+Music; for details and links to her other work, visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com