A world without polls

Rick Robinson Author, Writ of Mandamus
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Walter Mondale once said that the only reason we have elections is to confirm the accuracy of polls.

Damn tired as we may be of hearing about the latest trending numbers of some micro-segment of our society, we’re a nation addicted to polling data. Political junkies turn to the cable news networks each night to see how their candidate of choice is doing with working-class, female Quakers over the age of 35.

Pollsters like John Zogby have become celebrities — political Nostradamuses, if you will — predicting the rise and fall of Western civilization based upon a three-day rolling average of 827 likely voters.

But Hurricane Sandy has obscured everything.

The path to victory for each candidate involves obtaining the electoral votes of states like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia — states that are too busy surviving Sandy to give us answers with a 3.5% margin of error.

The impact of Hurricane Sandy on the 2012 presidential election polls will probably be written about for decades, but generally can be lumped into three categories.

First, Sandy hampers the ability of pollsters to obtain accurate data that can be effectively utilized by the campaigns and special interest groups to design and place last-minute ads. People in states affected by the storm can’t be reached and almost certainly don’t care to tell us if they have a “favorable or unfavorable” opinion of anyone running for office. And, people in those states not being hammered by rain and snow are watching the coverage of those that are being hit.

Secondly, all polling is based upon certain turnout predictions. The term “likely voter” is defined differently by different pollsters. I suspect that none of those definitions involves lopping off a certain percentage of people due to catastrophic weather.

Finally, the tracking polls, to one degree or another, follow trends in early voting — a practice that has been slowed in many key states and probably ground to a complete halt in others.

With the accuracy of polls in the final week of the campaign suddenly being somewhat unreliable, the Romney and Obama campaigns are left to make choices the old-fashioned way — on experience and instinct.

For instance, according to John Zogby’s latest tracking poll, Romney is closing on Obama in Ohio and has brought the race to within the margin of error. With heavy rains battering the northeast portion of the state, turnout modules for Cleveland are askew and tracking is, at best, only a partial view of the voting landscape. A decision on what commercials to run in Ohio on the closing weekend of the campaign will be made with a hope and a prayer.

The day Sandy blew ashore in New Jersey, Gallup announced that it was suspending its polling and reassessing when to resume on a day-by-day basis. Gallup has yet to announce when daily tracking will continue.

As election results start rolling in next Tuesday, polls in many key states may be irrelevant to predicting the outcome. Walter Mondale might have his revenge and we may actually have to wait for real vote tallies to predict the winner.

Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny, has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.