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The Five False Assumptions Behind Poll-Skewing

September 27th, 2012 - 11:20 am

ASSUMPTION #2

• People’s desire to be part of the “in crowd” is much stronger than any political philosophy they may have.

The next assumption justifying skewed poll reporting is that people’s fear of being perceived as an “outsider” or member of a losing faction outweighs their political beliefs. Thus, people will flippantly switch votes to whichever candidate is likely to win merely so as to then feel like part of the “winning team.” If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Is this assumption accurate? I can’t say for sure. There probably are some people who are so shallow, so obsessed with social maneuvering and so despicable that they will side with the perceived majority in any situation, even if it entails utter hypocrisy and moral vacuity. But do such people even bother to vote? It’s hard to visualize such a person, but I imagine they’re more concerned about what eye-shadow Kim Kardashian wears than they are about the fate of civilization.

Furthermore, it seems more and more, especially in the last four years, that the opposing political factions have hardened, the fissure between them has deepened, and rarely these days does anyone say the once-common refrain “There’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats.” Consequently, it has become much more difficult to casually switch camps, because now that involves flipping from one political extreme to another, rather than (as it used to be seen) choosing between two very similar options.

Flip-floppers and fair-weather vote traitors are a dying breed. Are they common enough to affect the result of a national election by voting for Obama simply because they were tricked into thinking he was guaranteed to win? Quite doubtful. I have no hard statistics on the rarity of flippant vote-switchers, but then again nor do the strategists laboring overtime to deceive them. Are those labors all a grand waste of time?

ASSUMPTION #3

• The liberal media can communicate directly to their conservative opponents with reverse dog whistles, while winking to Obama voters that they should ignore the lies.

The American left is obsessed with the concept of the “dog whistle,” an imaginary mode of communication in which conservative speakers, addressing a general audience, use secret code words to convey racist sentiments to fellow racist conservatives, which the rest of the audience presumably doesn’t notice (except for those too-clever Dog Whistle Detectives who spot racist code words in every Republican utterance).

Dog Whistle Code is actually an interesting logical problem: How can you embed a specialized message for a specific target audience in a communiqué that is broadcast to the general public? Long gone are the days when anyone could keep narrowcasting private; now, if you try to give a partisan message to a partisan audience, it will inevitably leak out to a shocked world. Therefore every utterance must be presumed to be broadcast generally, and any messages targeted at a specific subgroup must be secretly incorporated into a statement everyone can hear.

But the situation becomes doubly difficult when your target audience is not your close political comrades but rather your ideological opponents. But that’s exactly what the Obama-loving media is trying to do.

The goal of generating and promulgating skewed poll results is to (theoretically) depress and discourage Republican voters; but there is an unwanted side-effect that the media wishes to avoid: Inducing complacency on the part of Obama voters.

If you assume that a conservative activist will give up hope and stop fighting when he learns that his candidate is losing by a wide margin, then you necessarily will also assume that the reverse is true as well: That an opposing liberal activist will become lax, over-confident and complacent when he sees that his candidate is winning by a wide margin.

The corollary of “Dang it, my guy is losing by a wide margin, so there’s no point in voting” is “Yay! My guy is winning easily, so there’s no need to vote.”

So when the pro-Obama media and supporting punditocracy trumpet a new skewed poll, the hope is that conservatives will see it and become disheartened; while liberals are supposed to see it and understand (wink wink) that it’s a lie directed at someone else, which they should therefore ignore.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. If anything, Obama supporters seem to lap up and internalize the “Obama will win effortlessly” meme far more eagerly and unquestioningly than Romney supporters, who have become jaundiced and distrustful of anything the media does.

The end result is that for every Romney voter who stays home because he was tricked into thinking his vote will be futile in a sea of Obama votes, there may very well be an equal number of Obama voters who stay home because they were incidentally tricked into thinking their votes are unnecessary since Obama will win in a landslide.

And once again, I don’t have statistics for this, but neither do the Democratic strategists, because it’s basically impossible to poll future non-voters about why they will fail to vote. For all anyone knows, there will be five Obama voters who stay home out of over-confidence and complacency for every Romney voter who stays home out of depression.

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