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Parsing the Polls: The Impact of Insta-Polling?

"I love this mania which has swept through American media today which substitutes polls for coverage of substance. There's, I'm sure, going to be a special Betty Ford addiction for those that are addicted to regular poll numbers, but you'll work your way through it." -- White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (May 15)

Don't be so sure. Polling -- by newspapers, television stations, party committees, blogs -- has become a mainstay of the political debate. Everyone from reporters to politicians to casual observers has come to depend on hard numbers to back up their hunches.

So central to politics has polling become (a development The Fix, for one, cheers) that as soon as an event ends, we want numbers to gauge how people reacted. Take President Bush's speech last night on illegal immigration. Though the address concluded around 8:30 ET, the Opinion Research Center(on behalf of CNN) put out a slew of phone calls to measure the immediate response to the address.

The survey tested 461 adults who, when interviewed for a CNN poll last week, said they planned to watch the speech and agreed to be interviewed again after it. The sample's composition (according to the voters' own identification) was 41 percent Republican, 23 percent Democratic and 36 percent independent.

The results painted an extremely optimistic picture for the president, with 79 percent saying they had a "very positive" or "somewhat positive" reaction. Just 18 percent had a negative reaction.

While 42 percent of the sample said they had a generally positive view of the "policies George W. Bush has proposed on immigration" before the speech, 67 percent felt positively after his remarks. Negative views dropped from 38 percent before the speech to 27 percent after.

The jump in support reflects similar gains in CNN polling conducted right after other major speeches by this president. For example, 75 percent of watchers had a very or somewhat positive reaction following the 2006 State of the Union speech; 86 percent reacted positively following the 2005 version of that address; while 92 percent viewed the now-infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech positively immediately after it was delivered.

Seeking to find answers about how much (or little) credence we should put in such polls, The Fix sought out several of the nation's leading survey research scholars to get their opinions.

By and large, the experts said these insta-polls (for lack of a better word) are interesting but ultimately not predictive of any long-term trends. "They are of limited value because there's a fair body of public opinion and communications research that shows that on many topics ... the measurement of quick public opinion often differs from what we might call measured public opinions," said Michael Traugott, a research professor at the University of Michigan.

Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, cited a survey he conducted for Newsweek immediately following the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. "People hadn't thought about and hadn't been affected by the way the story was unfolding," Kohut recalled. As a result, the poll "completely underestimated" the boost the invasion had for President Ronald Reagan, he added.

There are several reasons why these insta-polls should not be used to draw sweeping conclusions, which, in fairness, neither they -- nor the pollsters behind them -- claim they do.

First, according to Post assistant polling director Claudia Deane, the group of people who watch a speech and then participate in a survey about it are not necessarily representative of the voting public at large. As noted above, the immigration-speech sample had significantly more Republicans than Democrats, who are significantly less likely to watch an address from the president -- no matter the subject -- and therefore would not be eligible.

"[When] assessing reaction immediately after a televised presidential speech, you have to take into account who was watching and whether there are differences between watchers and non-watchers," said Traugott.

The second major caveat offered by survey research experts is that public opinion often doesn't crystallize until people have had a chance to absorb the media's coverage of the event, discuss it with friends and attempt to square it with any previous knowledge they might have on the topic. If, for example, an influential party leader comes out against a proposal made by the president two days after the speech, it could have a considerable impact on how voters eventually perceive it.

A final warning concerns the difficulties of attaining a national sample in the hours following a presidential address. Since Bush began speaking at 5 p.m. on the West Coast, there is a distinct possibility that many in the Pacific time zone did not have a chance to watch him live, as they were either still at work or commuting home.

Does that mean these polls have no use? No. They provide instant reaction to major policy addresses on issues of the day. Like most elements of politics, the key to understanding and interpreting them is to put them in the proper context.

Drawing conclusions about whether immediate positive response to Bush's immigration address means he is on the political comeback is a fool's errand. But, the positive response does show that for those who chose to watch Bush's remarks, he effectively conveyed his message.

Agree? Disagree? Use the comments section to offer your own thoughts.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 16, 2006; 5:16 PM ET
Categories:  Parsing the Polls  
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"I love this mania which has swept through American media today which substitutes polls for coverage of substance. There's, I'm sure, going to be a special Betty Ford addiction for those that are addicted to regular poll numbers, but you'll work your way through it." -- White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove (May 15)
I do not agree.For more info go to

Posted by: warsaw hotels | September 27, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

There is only 1 poll that has any real meaning to our representatives. That poll occurs every other year in November.

If we didn't have polls, the representatives in congress would have to use there own judgement about how to vote on matters in congress.

But isn't that what we hire them to do? We hire (elect) them to represent our interests. We expect them to fully understand the subject matter and vote their conscience.

We are a Republic not a democracy. In November, we look for people who (supposedly) match our ideals and values. If these people are just telling us what they think we want to hear based on some poll, then they are cheating us out of learning about them and how they would vote should something new crop up.

Frankly, I think our reprsentatives need to spend more time doing their jobs and less time trying to keep those jobs.

Posted by: Dan W | May 18, 2006 12:36 PM | Report abuse

To: vivabush04OH

Wow, there are so many lies in this I don't know where to start.

Vivabush04OH: "If the MSM was a GOP tool you would be reading daily of an improved(ing) economy with interest rates down, the stock market up, GDP rising along with housing starts, unemployment under 5% etc. Also noted is the decline of deaths in Iraq and the gradual institutionalization of the Iraqui government. We only hear the bad news such as price of oil."

1) Interest rates are up not down.
2) Stock market just lost 500 point in the last two weeks.
3)Housing Starts are slowing.
4)Last month marked hightest number of US deaths in Iraq since November 05.
5)Iraq has still not formed a government. It has been almost 5 months since they had an National Election and they still have not formed a cabinet.

Vivabush04OH you need lay of the drugs. The media is only reporting the REAL reality out there not the Bush reality. Yeah, Yeah, we know the "left-wing conspiracy" is trying to get Bush. The media is so unfair. Whaaa Whaaa Whaaa . Why don't you go suck on your bottle.

Posted by: Wells | May 18, 2006 12:11 PM | Report abuse

The Gallup polling company started asking voters if they were supportive of a woman president (started after women got the vote nationwide in 1920), and it was very low in approval of the idea. Eleanor Roosevelt was asked to run by the Democrats in the 1940's, and she stated she did not think the nation was ready. So she went on to serve in the United Nations; using her international relationships to help build understanding between nations.

Gallup has shown increased support for a woman president, which is now at 90% approval. So this has been laying the groundwork for women to run in 2008, either Condi Rice or Clinton. I think this should be part of the debate and now we have a poll from Marist of the voters in New York who say that if Hillary is nominated, she would NOT win her own state. That is a powerful statement to me. (Also they say if Rudy won nominations, he would not win NY either.)
I would like to see a state by state matchup of Hillary vs Condi, not a national poll since we don't elect any president by a national vote.
I ask the Wash Post to consider this request for a state by state poll, and it could start in Iowa, New Hampshire and S Carolina. I look forward to seeing those results.

Posted by: Tina | May 18, 2006 11:30 AM | Report abuse


The Dem strategy fed by the Mainstream Media is fairly obvious: beat the "corruption" drum and play "we are not Republicans." And right now it is working.

If the MSM was a GOP tool you would be reading daily of an improved(ing) economy with interest rates down, the stock market up, GDP rising along with housing starts, unemployment under 5% etc. Also noted is the decline of deaths in Iraq and the gradual institutionalization of the Iraqui government. We only hear the bad news such as price of oil.

The Dem strategy is to focus on domestic issues as polls indicate that the areas of concern to Americans are domestic, not foreign.
AS long as immigration, the economy, Medicare are on the front page and Dems are perceived to be better at these, well, you win.

With the looks of things now, the DEMS can't lose

Will the prophecy be fulfilled?

It's your election to lose.


Posted by: vivabush04OH | May 18, 2006 11:23 AM | Report abuse

If any of you read the book by General Tommy Franks, "An American Solider", you would discover all the violations of the UN sanctions by Saddam that lasted for 10 years, violations of illegal Chinese and Russian weapons smuggled into Iraq, and how the record of the NO Fly zone jets by the US and British forces recorded various shots against them at a cost of billions and billions to enforce the NO Fly zone area in the North and the South. You would also read about various enemy terrorists who were seeking safe haven in Iraq.
There is quite a bit of evidence to support President Bush for going into Iraq and taking out Saddam, his 2 sons who made videotapes of people being fed alive to animals, along with the testimony of victims brutalized by Saddam. So the war in Iraq was correct for me and I do have family members serving, just in case a few wonder about that subject.

Posted by: James | May 17, 2006 11:06 PM | Report abuse

The blessing of instant polling in our American mainstream culture is starting to become a curse to our society. I know because I myself sometimes fall prey to it. Instead of really addressing their own personal convictions, politicians are relying very heavily on these numbers as a way to carry through on there policy making. These numbers do present the opinions of those tested, but to base judgements of national importance and make calls on the real wishes of America which are reached by the phone calls of a few random Americans, is pure lunacy. Gone are the days when our nations leaders made speeches based on their own judgements. Politicians are liable to their own voters, but not to the point where they lose their ability to decide issues based on their own morals. When we as Americans vote, we bestow upon our Representatives the ability to come to their own decisions without the fear of elections on their minds. Instant-polls should only be used in finding out what SOME Americans feel, and not be used to make dangerous and polarizing generalizations.

Posted by: bxcrbrent | May 17, 2006 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Why is the REPUBLICAN defense on corruption we both do it so it's OK ?

They do it so why can't we ?

Do you have a SOUL ? Do you have any INTEGRITY ?

You REPUBLICANS sold America a LIE. You told us you were going to bring integrity back into congress after the House Bank Scandal of 1993. So now, you are being held accountable for the lack integrity the Republican Leadership has brought upon congress. Whether one or two democrats are corrupt is not the point. The point is the REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP told America that if they would give them control of congress - they would stop CORRUPTION. They didn't live up to their promise to the America People. They LIED. Once they got control of congress they schemed from the very first day to try to be as corrupt as they could be. So they will be held accountable for their actions and inactions. The Republican Leadership we have now guided us to this corruption we have now - no one can deny this. Leaders are expected to lead by example if they can't they must be thrown out, not pass GO, and go directly to JAIL.

Posted by: Wells | May 17, 2006 7:00 PM | Report abuse

>>>Do we really want to go through this again?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if any Congressional investigations turn up illegal behavior, isn't it rule of law that impeachment proceedings must begin? I am no constitutional lawyer, but I believe that is so. For me, it is not a question of WANTING the President to be impeached. But we do have laws in this country for a reason. And last I checked, George W. Bush was a citizen of the United States.

Re: Polls, I am definitely wary of insta-polls and such, esp when detailed sample info is not available. And btw, what was up with that WaPo NSA poll? I think somebody mentioned that on here... but that had to be the most "off" poll I've seen in a long time. Like 20% off almost. Doh!

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | May 17, 2006 6:38 PM | Report abuse

The polls that mean something to me about candidates are the ones from their own districts and their own states. This media groups and consultants are paid millions of dollars to poll, but that does not really let voters know what is going on in their own state.
Look at the only open seat in Iowa, with Nussle running for governor. Who is favored to win it? That would be interesting to see in the polls.
What is the Des Moines Register and Quad City newspapers reporting about their governor's involvement in a financial scandal? Will it drag him down like the Ohio problem for Taft?
When the Democrats talk out of one side of their mouth about corruption while Vilsack of Iowa, William Jefferson of Louisana, and Alan Mollahan are being investigated for their own lack of ethics/scandals, how in the world can the Democrats say they stand for honest government and better ethics?
When do we see a few resignations on the Democrats side of the aisle?

Posted by: Nancy Jamison | May 17, 2006 5:50 PM | Report abuse

I agree with James

We don't want to go through another impeachment again.

(( BUT )), it's congress's SWORN DUTY to have OVERSIGHT over the EXECUTIVE BRANCH which they have NOT been doing. The only reason why we know the executive branch is screwing up now is because of journalists exposing the truth. Why is congress not doing its job ??? Why do we have to depend on journalist to be our TruthSayers. We need to have REAL congressional hearings. And as problems gets exposed Reform, Reform, and Reform. Lets try fixing things. Instead of HIDING things like the Bush Administration has done for the past 5 years. We have come to a point where the Nixon-Strategy-of-Governing is not going to work any more. It didn't work for Nixon and it will not work for Bush !

Posted by: Wells | May 17, 2006 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Cheating is not winning Republicans

Posted by: Larry | May 17, 2006 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Impeachment? Do we really want to go throught this again? We had an entire year of the Clinton impeachment which really brought our federal government to a halt. The Democrats complained about the $70 million spent to investigate and impeach Clinton, so I guess we need ask the Democrats if it was so wasteful of time and money in 1998 and 1999, why do that to our nation again? John Conyers of Michigan is pushing this impeachment thing along with a few other really radical leftists. I vote against impeachment.

Posted by: James T. Bennett | May 17, 2006 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I agree, the polls are a glimpse of what a group of people think or who they support. Exit polls likewise are a test of voters to forecast the way an election will turn out.

We have 55% voter turnout for presidential elections, and the "enlightenment" comment seems strange. People will vote for the person who inspires them, and clearly Bush won a 2nd term with over 3 million more votes than Kerry in addition to the electoral win. This November, we will see how the voters support Republicans or not. That is the issue for the next 6 months.

Posted by: Jo Anne | May 17, 2006 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Another hazard of insta-polling on the Presidential speech is so many people, especially moderates, have totally tuned out Bush and his crew. Only the hard-core GOP watch his speeches anymore. People just assume he'll be lying the whole time, and only want to throw things at the TV when he pops up - or one of his staffers or House/Senate cronies - and that's not going to change anytime soon.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | May 17, 2006 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Could not agree more with your article above. It seems everything that this Administration attemts ends in failure. Katrina, Iraq (why we are there, other than oil, I will never know), illegal immigration, the list grows every day. Time for one word: IMPEACHMENT! Long over due.

Posted by: don mottl | May 17, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

You go Che !

The NSA story is huge. I think we are only at the tip of the iceberg.

Didn't you love how Bellsouth, Verizon, and AT&T. Went from we worked with the NSA on a Phone Tracking Database that is legal. To WE never heard of the NSA or gave them anything. Why ? Because they are now being sued a $1000.00 per person they divulged to the NSA without the individual's consent - based upon our current Federal Privacy Protection Laws. So what is the grand total of these fines, it is $200 billion dollars. Isn't it interesting how a $200 billion dollars fine will change what the Major Telecom Corporations are saying over the past week. Hmmmm! I feel guilt.

Kudos to QWEST for not selling out the privacy of its Americans customers.

You all are not factoring in how this story erodes the approval of Republicans on the National Security Issue (the only issue keeping them above water - without National Security - Republicans will be DOA at the bottom of the pool). People want National Security but not at the expense of invading their OWN PERSONAL PRIVACY. Someone elses privacy yes, but not their OWN. That is where they draw the line.

Posted by: Wells | May 17, 2006 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I have no trouble with Insta-Polls, but do have trouble with how they are then presented to the public. Immediately after the revelation in USA Today, about the massive data collection being done by the NSA of American Phone information, the Washington Post did a quick poll. It did not seem to matter that this story had barely broken, that other news sources had not commented on it, that many people may not have heard about it or had little chance to really think about its implacations, the Washington Post rushed to do a poll, and then reported that sixty some percent of the people were behind this government program.

Later polls showed a very different result, but I continuously hear from Conservative Pundits that the American people support this program, and continuously reference this poll. They are not lying, there was a poll, but its accuracy has to be in question.

Polls do have their place, but should be reported on with care.

Posted by: JRolsen | May 17, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

(unrelated and so I apologize in advance)

is the Washington Post doing any dig on the Israeli company the telco subcontract for their billing, and which a Fox News's Special Report quoted a government agent as saying in 2001 that the information it has could be very "valuable"?

Posted by: mea | May 17, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Todays WaPO poll- Morin and Balz

This mentions several themes I have been sounding off against in recent weeks about the use of scandal as the centerpiece if the Dems strategy for midterms.

Incumbants could be endangered regardless of party and this is so far driven by anti-republican sentiment and not pro-democrat views.

While I am not advocacting revealing the Democratic strategy this early, it provides some interesting "polling" to support a defined strategy coupled with anti republican sentiment could draw a nationalized midterm election, much like the GOP used in 1994.

Posted by: RMill | May 17, 2006 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm a little bothered by how polls are so easily manipulated. Nearly opposite results can be obtained by asking questions in different ways. And even impartial (or at least seemingly impartial) polls have to deal with this phenomenon. Plus, we have segments of the public whose answers are shaped by their reading of the opinions of others. I think public opinion, especially negative opinion, can snowball. In any case, "instant" polling doesn't indicate much of substance, because real movement in public opinion takes a few days to really take shape. The best and most realistic use of polling data involves the use of tracking polls which can measure changes in public opinion over time.

Posted by: Staley | May 17, 2006 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Reminds me of some quotes:

Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?
-Robert Orben

If the World Series runs until election day, the networks will run the first one-half inning and project the winner.
-Lindsey Nelson

Mankind will never see an end of trouble until... lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power... become lovers of wisdom.

50% of those polled don't believe half of what the other 50% are saying and vice versa.

Posted by: RMill | May 17, 2006 1:26 PM | Report abuse

To che: NEWSFLASH: che thrown in jail for stirring up the populace on The Fix blog. Give me a break with your conspiracy theories. Your one of those people who give real conspiracies a bad name...the boy who cried wolf and all.

Posted by: FH | May 17, 2006 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Key to understanding this poll is who was watching Bush's speech. The majority of Americans who have written him off and are no longer listening to him or believing anything he says were far less likely to be watching in the first place. So the pool of people polled was disproportionately made up of hardcore true believers and -- how to put this delicately? -- the "easily persuaded" (ie: those non-partisan folks unaware of all the lies Bush has been caught in and dim enough to still be persuaded by what he says). The contrast between these poll results and all other credible current polls concerning Bush or any of his policies bears this out. Please, Chris, a bit less credulity is in order when analyzing these bogus "insta-polls."

Posted by: Wilson | May 17, 2006 12:57 PM | Report abuse

What a brilliantly written smackdown of Richard Morin's ill-chosen headline story about the instapoll he did about the NSA phone records collection a few days ago.

Posted by: Brad Johnson | May 17, 2006 12:56 PM | Report abuse



The Times and USA Today have Missed the Bigger Story -- Again

Friday, May 12, 2006
E-Mail Article
Printer Friendly Version

by Greg Palast

I know you're shocked -- SHOCKED! -- that George Bush is listening in on all your phone calls. Without a warrant. That's nothing. And it's not news.

This is: the snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration's Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI -- though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB.


Choicepoint Responds to this Article

Listen to Greg Palast, reading Double Cheese With Fear.

For the full story, see "Double Cheese With Fear," in Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War."


The leader in the field of what is called "data mining," is a company called, "ChoicePoint, Inc," which has sucked up over a billion dollars in national security contracts.

Worried about Dick Cheney listening in Sunday on your call to Mom? That ain't nothing. You should be more concerned that they are linking this info to your medical records, your bill purchases and your entire personal profile including, not incidentally, your voting registration. Five years ago, I discovered that ChoicePoint had already gathered 16 billion data files on Americans -- and I know they've expanded their ops at an explosive rate.

They are paid to keep an eye on you -- because the FBI can't. For the government to collect this stuff is against the law unless you're suspected of a crime. (The law in question is the Constitution.) But ChoicePoint can collect it for "commercial" purchases -- and under the Bush Administration's suspect reading of the Patriot Act -- our domestic spying apparatchiks can then BUY the info from ChoicePoint.

Who ARE these guys selling George Bush a piece of you?

ChoicePoint's board has more Republicans than a Palm Beach country club. It was funded, and its board stocked, by such Republican sugar daddies as billionaires Bernie Marcus and Ken Langone -- even after Langone was charged by the Securities Exchange Commission with abuse of inside information.

I first ran across these guys in 2000 in Florida when our Guardian/BBC team discovered the list of 94,000 "felons" that Katherine Harris had ordered removed from Florida's voter rolls before the election. Virtually every voter purged was innocent of any crime except, in most cases, Voting While Black. Who came up with this electoral hit list that gave Bush the White House? ChoicePoint, Inc.

And worse, they KNEW the racially-tainted list of felons was bogus. And when we caught them, they lied about it. While they've since apologized to the NAACP, ChoicePoint's ethnic cleansing of voter rolls has been amply rewarded by the man the company elected.

And now ChoicePoint and George Bush want your blood. Forget your phone bill. ChoicePoint, a sickened executive of the company told us in confidence, "hope[s] to build a database of DNA samples from every person in the United States ...linked to all the other information held by CP [ChoicePoint]" from medical to voting records.

And ChoicePoint lied about that too. The company publicly denied they gave DNA to the Feds -- but then told our investigator, pretending to seek work, that ChoicePoint was "the number one" provider of DNA info to the FBI.

"And that scares the hell out of me," said the executive (who has since left the company), because ChoicePoint gets it WRONG so often. We are not contracting out our Homeland Security to James Bond here. It's more like Austin Powers, Inc. Besides the 97% error rate in finding Florida "felons," Illinois State Police fired the company after discovering ChoicePoint had produced test "results" on rape case evidence ... that didn't exist. And ChoicePoint just got hit with the largest fine in Federal Trade Commission history for letting identity thieves purchase 145,000 credit card records.

But it won't stop, despite Republican senators shedding big crocodile tears about "surveillance" of innocent Americans. That's because FEAR is a lucrative business -- not just for ChoicePoint, but for firms such as Syntech, Sybase and Lockheed-Martin -- each of which has provided lucrative posts or profits to connected Republicans including former Total Information Awareness chief John Poindexter (Syntech), Marvin Bush (Sybase) and Lynn Cheney (Lockheed-Martin).

But how can they get Americans to give up our personal files, our phone logs, our DNA and our rights? Easy. Fear sells better than sex -- and they want you to be afraid. Back to today's New York Times, page 28: "Wider Use of DNA Lists is Urged in Fighting Crime." And who is providing the technology? It comes, says the Times, from the work done on using DNA fragments to identity victims of the September 11 attack. And who did that job (for $12 million, no bid)? ChoicePoint, Inc. Which is NOT mentioned by the Times.

"Genetic surveillance would thus shift from the individual [the alleged criminal] to the family," says the Times -- which will require, of course, a national DNA database of NON-criminals.

It doesn't end there. Turn to the same newspaper, page 23, with a story about a weird new law passed by the state of Georgia to fight illegal immigration. Every single employer and government agency will be required to match citizen or worker data against national databases to affirm citizenship. It won't stop illegal border crossing, but hey, someone's going to make big bucks on selling data. And guess what local boy owns the data mine? ChoicePoint, Inc., of Alpharetta, Georgia.

The knuckleheads at the Times don't put the three stories together because the real players aren't in the press releases their reporters re-write.

But that's the Fear Industry for you. You aren't safer from terrorists or criminals or "felon" voters. But the national wallet is several billion dollars lighter and the Bill of Rights is a couple amendments shorter.

And that's their program. They get the data mine -- and we get the shaft.

Greg Palast is author of Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War, out June 6. You can order it now.

Posted by: che | May 17, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

This what Cilizza wrote today during his LIVE Post discussion in response to a question about Gore running in 2008.

"As I have written on The Fix before, I think there is a compelling case for a Gore candidacy in that he is the lone candidate that can both raise the $50 million (or more)and run credibly to New York Sen. Hilalry Rodham Clinton's left on the Iraq war.",,,,,,then Chris explains Gore probably won't want to do the nuts and bolts work with local activists.

Ok. On a blog, Cillizza gets to make his own comment. And our freedom is to agree or disagree. Gore on the cover of Vanity Fair, with his new TV station and now a movie coming out on global warming reminds me about why I am glad Gore lost.

Yes, Gore lost, he failed to win his home state and any Southern state in 2000. If he had won any state, (Tennseee, Arkansas, Alabama, S or N Carolina and others) he would not have needed Florida for an electoral vote win. Gore was viewed for a run in 2004 and polls reported it was a OH NO not GORE factor which kept him out. Ok, Nixon ran in 1960, lost and then ran again in 1968 and won was a totally different time in our national history. Gore offers nothing today to show that he is strong on national defense, it was called THE WIMP FACTOR in 2000 and will be used again in 2008.

IF Hillary runs, she has to compete against a long list of other guys. But Gore might have a few million to spend in testing the political pool in 2007, but if the polls are not there for him, it will just be a HAS BEEN. Does Kerry still have $15 million left over from his 2004 or was he forced to hand some of it over to the Democrats? Now that is a question I'd like to hear answered. Any chance of Cillizza asking?

Posted by: Larry Abernathy | May 17, 2006 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Just wondering why no citation of the bogus polling that was done by the Post last week regarding the NSA and telephone records.

What knots did CC tie himself in to write this lengthy piece without getting into Richard Morin's whiff on that issue? I mean, it's only the MOST GLARING example of the shortcomings of insta-polling to date...?

Posted by: Just Wondering... | May 17, 2006 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Mike B: You know things must be bad when a moderate sounds off like that(enlightened). I think the insta-polls are great for political junkies (like most of us are), but one of the reasons I think the numbers change so much after those first polls are taken is the pundits. The media pundits get their hands on it and by the time their done telling you what you SHOULD think about the speach, people lose the initial feeling they got from the event.

Posted by: FH | May 17, 2006 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm not interested in "enlightened", especially if it is some twit who claims to be more enlightened than me or my fellow citizens. That's how we got into the mess we're in now. Our "enlightened" President transferred the tax burden from the wealthy to ordinary Amercian's, and becasue he is more "enlightened" he somehow feels we needed to invade Iraq and need to stay there, his "enlightened" adminstration has put in place all sorts of harebrained schemes from healthcare to education that benefit the wealthy and punish everyone else. At thre same time, we get "enlightened" politician's like Hillary Clinton proposing Byzantine health care programs when all we need is a simple national HMO. And, most of the Democrats are so much more "enlightened" than the Amercian people that they wont make a stand to exit Iraq immediately, which is what the Amercian people want.

Look. I'm sick of "enlightened". I used to go to school with jerks who smoked pot and dropped LSD and, even though they were obviously in a state of chemically induced lunacy, claimed to be "enlightened". There are left and right wings that have caused all sorts of damage to our country and every damn one of them claims to be "enlightened". Give me common sense.

Posted by: Mike Brooks | May 17, 2006 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Howdy from Texas. I will tell you about a poll which was done in Memphis. It was done very smartly among over 1,300 delegates from across the nation. You had to have a badge, show your ID, and then vote. It was one of the best I have seen in a long time.

The only part that was disappointing was John McCain and his write-in effort to show support for President Bush. Ok. That sucked up over 140 votes. By law, Bush could never win a 3rd term, so the voters who got sucked up into the "support the President" plan with McCain and Gov. Barbour of Mississippi and others polluted the ability of the delegates to show support for a 2008 contender.

Ok, it was held in Frist's backyard. Even the media saw that he was the winner because the poll was held in his home state and most of the delegates had been bussed in from across the state. Howard Fineman got a chuckle but it was a straw poll he had to win. Frist shelled out $100,000 for the transporting of hundreds of delegates who got off the bus wearing their badges. What a surprise!

The farce of this event with Frist as the over all winner was a joke compared to Frist being in the toilet at 1% in national polls. The national polls from Marist and others show more viability of strong leaders, and better known and respected Republicans. Frist is not going to win in 2008, but who it will be is up for grabs.

Posted by: Grace | May 17, 2006 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Mike B-- thats the problem. Elected officials have to decide whether to be representatives (who always go with the will of the people) or delegates (make their own decisions and do things for the good of the people, no matter how popular). It's not always good to be a representative, which is what you are advocating. Sometimes the lawmaker has to be more enlightened than his constituency. case in point: Al Gore Sr., who voted for civil rights in '64 even though Tennessee was fervently opposed to the bill. The bill went through and became law, but Sen. Gore was defeated for reelection. Sometimes we need good leaders to do good things, and not always bow to public will.

Posted by: Jake | May 17, 2006 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Rob. Polling 450 people will give results of what 450 people think, and then the media buys into the deal that it represents our nation. I can't buy it.

The poll tests the mood at the moment on a issue. That's it. It shows a leaning of yes or no in support of the issue or question. The part which makes me angry is how a poll can be twisted to get the result the polling group wants. Stan Greenburg is a Democrat/ married to a Congresswoman (Rosa DeLauro-D-Conn.) and he is a hired gun for the Democrats. That needs to be fully disclosed whenever his polls are used to show how the public has less support for the President or the Congress or the Republican party in general.

I see polling in politics as a "test of the market", a test of the political waters. I have said it before, when all the names are on a straw poll of candidates being viewed for 2008, the way it is worded has a huge impact on the results.

Two question at recent Republican events have been worded in a way to plant the seed of should win or is likely to win instead of which candidate the person wants to run. That is a huge twist in a poll, and lowly viewed candidates like Pataki has to work that much harder, spend more money, and cross his fingers that he can get out of the 1% to 5% in the national polls. That is why so many Republicans are flying in to speak in Iowa, S Carolina, New Hampshire; they want to show they can speak on issues the audience cares about and they hope they can win their support if they do decide to run in 2008.

CBS reported a poll of 1,241 Americans shows Hillary at 34% favorable and 35% unfavorable. Now why is that not included in the major media when they compared the low support for President Bush? Here you have a woman married to a former president who basically got elected out of pity in the only state which would accept a "new to the neighborhood" politican, and now after serving 6 years is building a multi-million dollar war chest to win the nomination for president.
The news today also show she would not win New York. The poll came out today. Will Hillary listen to the poll and end her crusade to become the legacy of her husband? Nah. She will keep trying to gain favor with the independents and the Republicans so they won't see her as the Lady Macbeth of the Democrats.
The media does show how polarizing Hillary/Gore is, because you either love them or hate them both. If the Democrats are going to have any chance of winning the White House, they need a person who has no baggage like Hillary. Believe me, she has tons of baggage which will be opened up for debate if she runs. The Democrats say they are against invasion of people's privacy, so Hillary will have to defend those hundreds of FBI files of federal employees. Corruption? Roll out the Whitewater land deal and the Madison Savings and Loan pals Jim and Susan McDougal convicted of bank fraud/tax evasion. Hillary will be asked about these long past issues since she failed to speak truthfully. It is no wonder people do not trust her, and it is no wonder the polls show she is not going to win in 2008.

Posted by: Tina | May 17, 2006 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that 500 people is enough to form a random sample from a diverse nation of 300 million. A few days ago there was a poll that was used to claim a majority of Americans support the NSA program to collect extensive records of Americans' phone calls. I think that it is ridiculous to make such a claim after calling 500 people on the phone. For one thing, of the people polled, I bet that 100% were willing to participate in a telephone poll. Is that representative of the nation as a whole? I think not.

Posted by: Cory S | May 17, 2006 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Chris, I generally like your take but I think you are wrong here. We keep hearing about "leaders" and "representatives". Now a representative is someone I think of who does the will of the poeple. Using polls to judge what the people want is a pretty good tool and, for good or bad, that is what I want my elected representatives to do. Sure, polls change. Then, so should the representatives vote. A "leader", on the other hand, is almost inevitably a crook. That is some who represents some special interest group with the money or influence to capture the elected official and their vote. We have lots of leaders and they are pretty much universally awful - Bush, Cheney, Reid, Kerry, the Clintons, most elected officials in fact - and darn few genuine representatives.

I've never understood that a politician's changing their vote with the poll numbers was a bad thing. It's used as a pejorative, like the nut fringe Fundimentalists use the term "theory" when talking about evolution. It demostrates a profound lack of understanding of words and science. SO...let's all drink to polls and hope to god people start paying more attention to them.

Posted by: Mike Brooks | May 17, 2006 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Chris, ya got it in one. Everything I thought was wrong with instapolls was confirmed by your article. Keep making me look smart, OK?

Posted by: Meg | May 17, 2006 11:48 AM | Report abuse

The trouble with polls is too many politicians use them to define what they should believe instead of where they need to lead.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | May 17, 2006 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I view instant polls much the same way I view the Washington Post/ABC poll. They are done by choosing random adults without regard to demographics such as party affiliation, voting probability, income etc. If I am wrong maybe you should publish your demo's along with the results?

Posted by: Rob | May 17, 2006 11:18 AM | Report abuse

A balanced, cautious, non-hyperventilating (for once) analysis of a political tool. Nice job CC.

Bush's speech? Too little, too late.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | May 17, 2006 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Nice piece -- I always support to promotion of "context" in politics.

By the way, this blog has gotten consistently better since its inception, and I'm glad it's around.

Posted by: Nate | May 17, 2006 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I like to look at polls as a way to validate an argument or to understand how many of my fellow citizens share my take on a certain issue. Insta-polls really just tell me how good a speaker the president was on that given night. Now I thought he did a pretty decent job, and I think the polling supports that idea. The majority of people who watched it thought President Bush gave a good speech. How does that translate in the immigration reform debate? For that we have to wait and see what the houses of congress come up with, but I don't think monday's speech is going to hurt Bush's position on the issue.

Posted by: Andy R | May 17, 2006 10:57 AM | Report abuse

We have had similar discussion here. On one hand, a poll gives us a current snap shot of the views of the "public". While the snapshot can change in a day due to the course of events, general trends can be ascertained, which are probably more useful, if methodology remains consistant throughout.

Insta-polls have a similar usefulness especially for cable news organizations and blogs. Our hunger for instant reaction feeds this propensity. The danger, regardless of methodology problems, is that complex issues that are the subject of polls, rarely sink into the nation conciousness that quickly.

The President's speech, was, his side of the story. We have seen time and again that there are more angles that were not discussed or are revealed at a later time, that have great impact on people's views.

Declaring victory on the deck of an aircraft carrier met with great positive response from the American public. Approval ratings soared. Now, three years later, no victory has been achieved and approval ratings have sunk to all-time lows.

There is always a danger in the use of any type of poll. It gives us a general sense, can identify trends, but is hardly a substitute for good public policy or the actual vote of the people.

They are only one piece of a larger puzzle. As a political professional, I have used them for many years and have over time developed a certain sense and feeling about their accuracy and proper usage. They are never the final deciding factor in my decision making however. The same goes for our discussions about fund raising. While money in the bank is a certain indicator of support and to some extent, campaign success, they are not final deciding factors.

Does a candidate want to be up or behind in a poll? Do they want more moeny or less than their opponent. The answers are obvious. However, they are not final deciding factors.

The bottom line is that they have permeated our discussion and national mind set and they are fun to play with. The danger is those in power and their use as deciders of public policy.

Posted by: RMill | May 17, 2006 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Those who still aren't completely disgusted --Bush's hard-core believers -- would be the most likely to be able to stomach one of his little charades. Since apparently nothing he mucks up is enough to enlighten them as to his true character, they can hardly be thought of as indicative of the entire population, just the one-quarter are so who are truly delusional.

This is off topic and I apologize, but I have a truly burning question. What happened to Russell Tice? The former NSA intelligence specialist was scheduled to meet in closed session with the Senate Armed Forces committee today, about alleged illegal domestic spying by Gen. Michael Hayden, Bush's CIA nominee. No one seems to know where he is, and he's no longer scheduled. Anyone have any info?

Posted by: Drindl | May 17, 2006 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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