October 16, 2008
The real-world campaign involves speeches and proposals and facts and scandals and political positions and news events. These details, however, are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and have become subsumed by the meta-campaign, which consists of perceptions, polls, reactions, analyses and summations. Until very recently, elections were decided by real-world facts -- but not anymore. Facts and events in and of themselves are no longer important; what's important is how everyone reacts to them. And how do we find out the public's mood concerning this or that incident? Why, the media tells us, that's how.
Or so we've been led to believe.
We're all part of the campaign now. Every single one of us. Our opinions, our actions, are bundled together as a group and used as weapons in the race for the White House. When the media reports on what people think, either through public-opinion polling or reportage about anecdotal incidents, it becomes an endless feedback loop, in which the media's representation of most people's purported thoughts is supposed to influence everyone else's thoughts. And then they take another poll to determine how effective the first poll was in influencing public opinion, and the cycle starts all over again. Since everyone now knows that any public expression of their political opinions might be reported by the media, even the most innocent activity becomes a calculated campaign action. Saying how you intend to vote is not simply an expression of how you intend to vote, but rather a component of the public barometer of how the majority intends to vote, which is then used by the media and the blogs to influence everyone else. Nothing is done in all innocence anymore.
One odd thing about public-opinion polls is that there's no way to know if they're accurate or not. Except for a poll taken on the very last day of the campaign, when it can be later compared to the actual vote totals, a poll is a self-supporting statement of "fact" that can only be confirmed or disproven by taking yet another poll -- which is just as unreliable as the first one. We do not have access to some secret hyper-accurate invasion of privacy enabling us to peer into voters' hearts to see how they actually intend to vote, and to use that information to assess the accuracy of a poll. So, if a poll is taken a month ahead of time showing a candidate with a five-point lead, and then a month later he in fact wins the election by five points, we have no way of knowing whether or not the poll was simply accurate, or whether it was originally inaccurate, but fed a public perception that the candidate was in the lead, causing many voters to switch allegiances to him out of a desire to "be on the winning team." Do polls reflect reality, or do they create reality?
The entire Democratic strategy in 2008 revolves around the unproven theory that polls do create reality. Otherwise, there would be no point in continuously striving to inflate Obama's perceived public support.
The real question at the end of the day is this: Are people telling pollsters they're supporting Obama due to normative conformity (which is what I suspect) or due to informational conformity (which is what the Left is banking on)? We won't know until November 4. You can lie to a pollster. But you cannot lie to a ballot.
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