In all cultures, at all times, a great deal can be learned by looking at what everyone assumes together — left wing, right wing, moderate, libertine, conservative, or anarchist. In our day, virtually everyone assumes the legitimacy of polling as a way of spot-checking what demos, the people, has to say at any given moment.
To make up an example, suppose we learn that three out of ten teenagers have had sex by the time they are fourteen. Conservatives descry it, liberals call for more sex ed, and our responses differ one from another. And sometimes these surface clashes can be quite sharp. Hannity and Colmes can go at it all they like, but underneath it all is what can only be described as profound agreement. Virtually no one says, “How could you know something like that? I don’t believe you.”
But this activity called polling serves a great didactic and manipulative purpose. For example, homosexual activists are still (successfully) circulating the Kinsey howler that ten percent of the population is homosexual, proving, yet again, Mark Twain’s dictum that “the history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sown thick with the evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.”
Polling is represented to us as a means of measuring what the god Demos is thinking, when in reality it is a powerful tool for manipulating what this figurehead Deity is going to do in the future.
Think about it. The basic assumption (question it and you’re an idiot) in modern political campaigns is that Kerry is down in the polls this week, and then Bush is down. The whole thing is treated as a horse race, in which one is ahead and then another, and then, into the backstretch! Neck and neck! Bush caught up! Whoa! Photo finish! We can see the strength of this assumption in this: if Bush were down in the polls by ten percent the week before the election, and then won the election by five percent, the ruling assumption would be that “Bush caught up” and not that the polls are “radically unreliable.”
Unlike a horse race, where one horse really is in front of the other one, as all can see, political polling consists of speculation grounded on very small “scientifically selected” sample sizes. In short, you talk to 2,000 Americans and purport tell us what 250 million Americans are thinking. The next week you talk to a different 2,000 Americans, and, son of a gun, there is a ten percent difference in the answers. Then you represent that as an instance of the 250 million changing their minds! Beautiful! Elegantly done! But bogus, of course.
But this speculation (for that is all it is), once accepted by the masses as scientific, is a great way to herd everybody along in the general direction you wish them to go. Polling is less a finely-tuned and calibrated instrument for measuring as it is a cattle prod to keep the voting public mooing contentedly.