Why does the news media poll?
Politicians continually question news media polls. They argue the surveys are not fair. They say the poll winner gets a boost and the losers are all hurt.
Even worse, a news media poll damages challengers by unfairly predicting a winner; it drives people away from the polls and it hurts an unknown candidate’s ability to raise money, they say.
To varying degrees that is all true. But that is not why the news media polls.
The reason the news media surveys public opinion during an election year is because the candidates poll and the campaigns are largely based on those results.
Candidates then dribble out the results to the media.
Shocking as it may seem (sarcasm alert), sometimes candidates are less than truthful when reporting polls in their own elections.
Today most journalists are careful to get details about candidate polls before reporting on them.
Polls taken by interest groups are also leaked or distributed to the press.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for instance, was leaking copies of its own poll showing Ed Case as the only viable candidate to beat Charles Djou in this summer’s congressional special election.
Since then another player has surfaced and is bragging about the job it did with its own sophisticated polls of the Congressional District 1 special election.
The Independent Women’s Voice, a conservative lobbying group based in Washington with Lynne Cheney on the board of directors, says the $250,000 it tossed into the contest was "money well spent."
"A little money, spent wisely and early, can have an enormous impact later. IWV was widely credited with being crucial to Djou’s first victory," the IWV said on its Web page.
In the special election, IWV polled and found that Case was leading and that he was also the second choice of both Djou and Colleen Hanabusa voters.
IWV went to work with a series of hit pieces and IWV happily reported: "The IWV ad campaign did its job: Case’s image — which had been firmly set in the minds of Hawaii voters — began to change perceptibly."
The conservative group was not the only mud slinger. The IWV noted that the DCCC was hitting Djou with negative ads, which their polling discovered was doing as predicted: driving Djou voters to Case.
The DCCC had the advantage of being "publicly neutral" between Case and Hanabusa, but designing ads that pushed voters to Case.
Today Case says he should have reacted to the conservative hit pieces, noting that candidate for governor Neil Abercrombie "is now making the Mufi Hannemann negative campaign an issue of the opponent’s character and suitability to govern."
All of this is the information you get from polling, and if the candidates know it, so should the voters.