Whatever you think about US elections, you have probably noticed that polls have become increasingly unreliable.  I submit that this is a very healthy trend, and I hope it continues until most polls and surveys, political and otherwise, are universally regarded as rubbish.  In fact, I think we have a moral and ethical obligation to lie to all but a few pollsters; more later about the exceptions.

 

The most recent, frequent, and shameless example is political polling, but what happens in any poll?  Someone calls you (usually at mealtime) and gets you to give them something for free—your opinion and probably also some demographic information—which they then make great lashings of money by selling to someone else, who uses it to try to manipulate you and others.

 

Campaign polling is either collecting information that will allow the campaign to spin their adverts—not to change their positions—or if it's a "push poll," trying to influence you directly.  Push polls are the ones where they ask you, "If you knew that Candidate Z was a convicted child molester, would you still vote for Candidate Z?"  Candidate Z is of course no such thing, so you should feel perfectly at ease to answer "Yes, I would."

 

But polling has an even more insidious effect.  The news media have noticed that it is much easier to report polling results than to discuss complex policy proposals.  This has enabled them to treat each election as a "race" in which what matters is who is leading by how much in the daily polls.  

 

An election campaign is not a race.  Obviously it's a contest, but a democracy can have a fighting chance of working properly only if election campaigns are contests about competing ideas and not races between evanescent and often uninformed opinions gathered from impatient people at dinnertime.  So the patriotic thing to do is to lie to pollsters.  This is not guaranteed to force the news outlets to focus on ideas instead of fleeting thoughts, but at least they'll have to find something else to blather about if there aren't reliable polls.

 

The problem carries over even after the election, as we have seen this year.  A week after Election Day, , a major news outlet ran a story with the head, "Trump and Biden struggle to gain votes in Georgia."  But that's not what was happening.  The struggle ended when the Georgia polls closed, and counting up the scores was all that remained.  This formulation allowed too many people the comfort of feeling that they could still win the race if they just struggled hard enough.  In many cases, deluded voters of both parties thought that because the actual vote results differed from their favourite polling predictions, the votes must have been counted wrong, probably with evil intent. 

 

Mutatis mutandis, the same argument holds if the poll is about your favourite soap or magazine or automobile.  You are giving away something that will be sold and then used to manipulate you, first interrupting your dinner.  Why would you tell them the truth?

 

So don't.  Instead,  lie about your party affiliation,  your voting intentions, your age and your sex and your ethnicity, and about your favourite soap and automobile.  All polls are based on relatively small samples, so your small effort can go a long way toward making the results useless.  The polling industry has been making itself crazy trying to figure out some statistical adjustments to make everything all right, but without much luck.  When this reaches a critical level, campaigns and corporations will stop spending money on polling.  The country will be better off, and you will be able to finish dinner in peace.

 

So what are the exceptions?  Who should get the true story?  Anybody who is paying you for it, either by giving you something of value or by making a donation to some cause you approve of.  (If it's not a cause you approve of, you should decline to participate.)  The amount needn't be large, but if you are getting something for your information, you are obliged to be truthful.

 

Otherwise, while this lie is not on a level with the morally required lie to the Amsterdam SS that there are no Jews up in your attic, there are so few occasions on which it's mandatory to lie that folks should jump on this one gleefully.  

POLLS APART

By Jim Kent