Opinion

Please, enough with the polls already

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Earlier in June, leaked polling information from inside the Trump re-election campaign was released to the public, and it wasn’t good news for the president.

In those polls, President Trump was trailing current Democratic front-runner Joe Biden in virtually all of the key battleground states. Particularly troubling to Trump was that the very states that handed him the election — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — showed him down by double digits.

This week, Trump pounced and fired three polling firms the campaign had been working with, presumably because they were suspected of leaking the polls.

This whole saga has given the media — again — an opportunity to gleefully poke at Trump and needle him for the disparity between his claimed polling performance (he is winning everywhere) and his actual polling performance (to the contrary in some very important places). This is, of course, the job the media seems to like doing the best.

But, as I have done repeatedly in the past, I am going to beg you to not read too much into polling. Any of it.

Not the head-to-heads with Trump and Biden. Not the public polls surveying the Democratic primary. Not the survey about your local town council election.

It isn’t that polls aren’t important and useful. They are. But that said, you should never use them to decide who you take seriously or don’t. And at this point in a presidential contest, you shouldn’t even bother reading them. At all.

If you are a Democrat, for instance, one of the most interesting people running in your primary is Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Buttigieg, a complete and total unknown at the time of his announcement, was initially polling around one percent or less.

Fortunately for him, he was able to gain some momentum before the suffocating media crush of polling results inevitably saturates the primary coverage. That allowed him to work to get the attention of his party’s faithful, and some buzz was generated. That buzz generated media coverage — still with no real mention of polling — which in turn resulted in slight increases in the limited polling that was conducted.

Imagine if Buttigieg had just recently announced for president. His poor initial polling performance would have kept him out of the preposterously large 20-person debate, and he would have immediately been labeled unserious and unworthy of attention. Then, no matter how compelling or interesting voters found him, his momentum would have been blunted before it started.

Obsession with polling, especially at this point, serves no one, and shame on all of us for bothering to even care. Because not only does it twist reality for voters and prevent them from making their own choices, it is also constantly wrong at this point in a presidential election.

In a Fox News poll in late June 2015, Jeb Bush was leading the Republican primary field, with Donald Trump only able to capture 11 percent.

In a Zogby poll in late June 2011, Michelle Bachman was leading the Republican primary field.

In virtually every poll in late June 2007, Rudy Giuliani was leading the Republican primary field by a wide margin. In second place was Fred Thompson.

I could go on, but the examples of pointless primary polling that had nothing to do with the end result are too numerous to list.

And lest you think it is just pointless in primaries, I will remind you that Ronald Reagan trailed Jimmy Carter by 30 points in late 1979 and was trailing as late as the month before election day.

Michael Dukakis was leading George H.W. Bush by nearly 20 points as late as July 1988. In June 1991, Bush had a 70 percent approval rating, and Bill Clinton hadn’t even announced his campaign yet. Bob Dole was actually leading Clinton at several points in 1995. The examples are endless.

So is Trump losing to Biden right now? Is Biden leading the Democratic field? Even if they are, it doesn’t matter in the least bit. So why do we care? Why do we obsess? Why do we even bother?

The next time you find yourself reading a poll or even taking one seriously at this point, do yourself and your country a favor, and put it away.

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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