The Campaign Poll-er Coaster
12-19-2007
Last month, I noted that we were fast approaching the point in each primary election cycle, at which the avalanche of campaign advertisements blanketing New Hampshire television and radio combine to produce a kind of political white noise that voters invariably tune out. Now, as our friends at First Read suggest, we are also reaching that same point with the blizzard of polling results being released by various institutions and media outlets on an almost hourly basis.
 
I have noticed, however, that there is one important difference in how voters respond to the onslaught of polling results, some of which are contradictory in nature. Rather than completely tune out the data like they do ads, voters often self-select polling results that favor their preferred candidate, while downplaying those that do not. While this behavior often represents little more than harmless political wishful thinking, it can also lead voters to read substantive meaning into small changes in polling results, variation due primarily to survey methodology or other exogenous factors, rather than to any real underlying shift in the dynamics of the race. I have seen first-hand how this sort of polling roller coaster ride can affect how voters feel about mobilizing for a particular candidate, so it is not necessarily healthy for the political process.
 
My suggestion is that you resist the temptation to focus on only the good news for your candidate, or read too much into daily fluctuations. You should look at trends within specific polls over time, as well as at averages across competing polls. Two good places to do this are Pollster.com and RealClearPolitics.com. When reporters and political professionals talk about polling trends and averages, they are often drawing that information from one or both of these sites. This will help to give you a more realistic appraisal of your candidate’s potential for success, even if you enjoy a good roller coaster ride on occasion.


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