Ron Rosenbaum

A Dissent on Straw Polls

In case anyone wonders why I have not installed a straw-poll “widget” on this website it’s because it presents a real dilemma for me. I don’t question the motives of those who want it, I just disagree with whether straw polls are a useful way of achieving them.

So this dissent (I assume) is not a test of free speech, I have confidence it’s merely an exercise of it. I hope it will provoke more discussion. But I just think “straw polls”–the encouragement of more polls of almost any kind–to be unhelpful if not antithetical to reasoned discourse, reducing discussion of candidates’ merits to discussion of horse race positioning, usually based on an unscientific sample that is easily manipulated (already there have been “cheaters” busted, but “cheaters” often manage to find another way to game the system.)

I’d rather have, if there have to be straw polls, polls about how people feel about specific issues and why. Maybe polls that tell us more than whether someone you wouldn’t vote for (since you can vote in both party polls) should win, or is likely to win, or–if you’re shrewd, you’d like to win in their party because they’re more likely to lose in the actual election.

Yes there is a case to be made for more scientific voter sampling based on population demographics (although these too can be wrong). A case that if one issue (such as the war, or abortion) is most important to you, you should try to choose the candidate with that view who is more “electable”. But the mixed motives of straw poll voters suggest they are not the most reliable guide.

I’m open to persuasion or popular demand if it manifests itself, but I thought I should let people know why no widget so far.