In politics, are you swayed by public opinion polls, trends, or statements?

When it comes to politics and the media, I must admit that I find the endless referencing of public opinion polls, approval ratings, and random interviews of John and Jane Doe to be quite tiresome—mainly because I find them to be unnecessary, inaccurate, ever changing, and dubious.

Both the media and the politicians consistently try to draw conclusions from voting results and exit polls that somehow reflect the state of a party or the Nation as a whole. Perfect examples of this are today’s headlines (11/4/09) on yesterday’s gubernatorial and mayoral races. To be honest, Virginian opinions of Obama do affect my own opinions of Obama in one way or another.

First, public opinion polls can be highly dubious depending on who conducted them, and how the public was questioned, what region was polled, and how the questions were phrased. For example, consider these two questions:

Do you think gays and lesbians should have special rights?

Do you think gays and lesbian Americans should have access to the same rights and privileges that other Americans do?

That is basically the same question framed in two very different ways, and each would probably elicit different responses.

Second, other people’s opinions on candidates don’t really matter to me. I want to know the facts, and whether or not I can trust what the candidate says and does. I don’t care if Sally Jones thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Personally, I frequently find the general public to be ill informed, highly biased in one direction or another, inconsistent, and fickle. I often think that people don’t really know what they want; they often don’t look at the whole picture; they have unrealistic expectations of candidates, and a poor understanding of how politics really works (something from which the vast majority of us, including me, suffer).

Not to mention the fact that human memory (about all things, including politics) is capricious and highly subject to inaccuracies, biases, revisionism, and self-deception.

Third, a lot of what is reported as public opinion is nothing more than fabricated and strategically placed propaganda, e.g., Many people are deeply concerned about XYZ and will be voting “No” on Prop 1 because they are tired of their representative. In many cases, these statements are simply made up by people who wish to sway public opinion, and are not based on feedback or public opinions.

So, am I being too critical and harsh here, or am I on the money? What are your opinions about public polls, opinions, trends, and statements? Do they influence your own decisions at all?

Tags: conservative, government, independent, left, liberal, opinion polls, politics, right, the public, undecided voter, More…voting

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I'm in large agreement with you. I don't usually let polls and such affect my vote - though I have to admit that being a lefty in a thoroughly red area is depressing sometimes :P We really ought to have proportionate representation.

Luckily I get my ballot through the mail so it's not a serious inconvenience, even if my vote is essentially irrelevant.
Public polls -- Hah!
Opinions -- I'm only interested in the opinion of seasoned political analysts (for decyphering political xyloglossy, providing hints and insights, etc.)
Trends -- See 'public polls'.
Statements -- Oh-hum. Maybe, if there's something left of them after they've been "unxyloglossied" (see 'opinions').

Do they influence your own decisions at all?

No, or not much. Policies do.

This might be a good discussion thread in Linguaphiles. Hint, hint.
I have no trust in the public or their opinions. If I ever find myself in line with popular opinion, I find myself reconsidering my own stance -- not because I enjoy being contrarian (and I do) but because the public is almost always wrong.

Polls in general are terrible snapshots. If I ever consider a poll it is always an aggregate of polls and a series of similar polls over time; even then it's just barely insightful.
because the public is almost always wrong.

I have often thought that the vast majority of people live under the wrong impressions, and that humanity generally gets things wrong. Don't know for sure, but it seems that way at times.
I have yet to be convinced that most people will, of their own volition, actively investigate something before forming an opinion. People just aren't that responsible.
I agree. Most of them believe whatever the pundits tell them to believe. Aiden told me of a book called Gullibility, which I read, and recommend.

BTW, ever watch Jaywalking on the Tonight Show, when Leno was on it? He's ask people where the oval office was located, who was the man in this picture (pic of prez), where is the US capital, etc., and people were often stumped. Of course, he edits for the funny ones, and the people who do know it end up on the cutting room floor, but still, how can people not know this stuff?
Very good point Steve. I'm almost certain you'd get a similar response if you were to ask:

Is it unethical for you to not give back the money when you have received too much change?

Is it unethical for people to not give back the money when they have received too much change?

You'd probably get more 'NO's for number 1 and more 'YES's for number 2.
I also agree with your assessment of polls and of the intelligence of the American Public.

Part of me wants to believe that the U.S. is full of citizens that inform themselves about the issues that matter and involve themselves in changing what's broken in government and their communities But do I believe those citizens compromise the majority of Americans? No. Most people sit back and complain or don't vote because they are convinced it doesn't matter...a case of American Disillusion and Apathy.

We are a quick fix society with short memories. We tend to keep our eyes on our own backyards and regions instead of taking a global view. We don't have the patience to read, to analyze, to digest information. We often aren't as skeptical about information as we should be...and there's the folks that think everything is a conspiracy and doubt everything "the government" proposes to do.

I do think that there is a trend out there that relates to the "red-state, blue-state"'s cultural and political and regional. Each political party is stretching out to the extremes and people are considering themselves "independents" just to have a voice in the system. It's tough to be a moderate.

I am a liberal, progressive, feminist, atheist, humanist and vote according to my conscience. I could not vote as a Republican because that political party seems to never represent my views. I have always voted Democrat and plan to continue doing so unless the Green Party gains more support and legitimacy. I don't want to waste a vote and have it go to "the other side".
Part of me wants to believe that the U.S. is full of citizens that inform themselves about the issues that matter and involve themselves in changing what's broken in government and their communities

And we should want to believe it, and it should be true, too, considering the blood sacrifice that was made to establish US democracy.

We often aren't as skeptical about information as we should be

Sorry, but often is completely the wrong word to use in that sentence. How about typically instead -- or maybe predictably?

I could not vote as a Republican because that political party seems to never represent my views.

Same here.


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