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Minnich: Everybody says but nobody knows ... and there’s no reason to fret over polls | COMMENTARY

An argument that begins with the assertion, “A lot of people say (know, think, believe, etc.)” pushes my bad buttons. I go instantly from listen mode to pushback mode, and any debate runs into the ditch.

How can anyone know what everyone thinks? And you could only know what everyone says if you have the patience to ask each and every person. I do not have that patience.

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Well, the polls tell us …

Give me a break.

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I have little use for polls because people lie. I know some people who go out of their way to fill out polls with ridiculous responses because they think it’s amusing. Others look for ways of using polls as a release for their rage. Those who don’t lie are too certain about things they don’t know anything about. So what use are polls?

People who put a lot of stock in polls tend to shop around for one with results that tell them what they want to hear. Others are so insecure about their own thoughts that they use polling as a sort of social guide to permissible opinions. These people spend a lot of time in relationships saying, in words and deeds, please don’t hit me for thinking for myself.

Polls get too many news headlines because internet media loves shortcuts and headlines; polls are headlines, tossed into the media waters as click bait. If you bite, you’re snared in a series of nets leading to buying into a product or an idea that someone is selling.

We news types aren’t all lazy, but we need to fill a page or a half-hour news hole every day with something or it isn’t a good news day, if you get that. They need a story, any story, and a poll result serves one up.

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This is where it gets complicated. Polls come from all kinds of sources, hired by sponsors with various objectives. Things can be slanted, and good newspapers and reasonably competent television reporters (not an oxymoron) go beyond the hawking of “Extra! Extra! Breaking News!” bleating to get to the substance of the poll results. Assuming there is substance.

Complete stories — good journalism — find and explain the substance. Or they will tell readers/watchers there is no substance. Fact checkers are never going to be out of work. Is the poll mining for trends in thought, or intended to spur a thought, or a discussion — or is it mining for funds for on-going election propaganda? Or putting your name on a condo sales list?

When word got around that I was turning to the dark side, leaving behind the pure light and fresh air of noble journalism for the dark stench of political office, I was asked often: “Are you ready for that?”

Since journalism’s number one job is to hold up a mirror to the world, I thought I was ready. While you’re holding up that mirror, you witness all the best and worst of human endeavor. I knew what to expect.

The real question was why anyone would want to wade into a world of controversy, where no matter what you did would have critics.

Well, you can’t fret over polls. Never shy about having an opinion, I defend the opinion of the moment with the caveat that it’s OK to be wrong if you keep an open mind. It is folly to assume that people know absolute truth. I’ve found that the more certain someone is, the more apt they are to be missing something.

Yes, I sometimes find myself drawn to polls. What do people think? Or rather are they thinking at all? What do they care about? Anything other than shallow and frivolous fancy?

Polls usually don’t answer any questions for me, and even if they did, one thing I can be sure of is that tomorrow’s polling will reveal that a lot of people have changed their minds, and everyone knows that because polls say so.

Dean Minnich is a veteran news worker and former county commissioner who lives in Westminster. His column runs every Thursday. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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