Minnich: What’s a poll worth these days?

Traditional wisdom in political practice and its coverage is that you research information by various pollsters to take the temperature of public consciousness (or mine for it) on everything from personal popularity to intellectual comprehension of the issues.

More and more time is going into the measurement of popular opinion and less faith is even sought on the comprehension side.


That’s because it’s easier to manipulate the former, and almost hopeless, it seems, to even find the latter.

Personally, I put little faith in the polls. When the 2016 election campaigns were going on, I cautioned some about believing the polls putting Hillary Clinton in the White House. Never underestimate the damage that can be done by mob mentality.

That we are still discussing the 2016 election results here, deep into 2018, should tell us that something is broken. Essentially, all faith and credibility in the conventional procedures of choosing and running American democracy have been derailed by an assault on the messengers and the traditional leadership. The primary method of this destruction has been easy access to social media and the rejection of the idea that gatekeepers of information are necessary. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and virulent internet bloviators, anyone and everyone with an opinion or an agenda can butt in line ahead of those with reasonable information and take the show over.

And that’s all American politics is, now: a show. One performance after another, each in reaction or anticipation to another, shows during shows, designed to distract, deflect, diminish, or simply shout down another performance.

This is not news. In fact, there is too much news that is no longer news. Breaking news, follow-ups on breaking news, panels of experts and the constant grenade-tossing, bomb-lobbing of the deranged on the fringes of reality, among those the leader of the free world and current president.

As a life-long news guy, I find myself compelled to push back against the murder of reasoned dialog, and yet I know that what I see as truth, others reject as lies. There is need for freedom to express any opinion but the privilege is abused by diminishing respect for the opinion of others.

One of the major threats to a democracy is the dedication of those who would destroy a good idea or even a chance at collaboration just because of party labels.

There is nothing new in the rancor between political believers. I was surprised to learn that there was an element of political partisanship in the enmity that led to the gunfight at the OK corral. But duels have been fought, families torn apart, and the nation ripped by civil war over political issues that were only partly associated with the issues of morality of slavery and justice. It was mostly about money and then about culture clash. Little has changed.

The pen has long been mightier than the sword, because words can roil the emotions of the populace and lead to blood. Ideals get drowned out by calls to glory over — what? Who kneels at a football game? Who is Christian enough, white enough, black enough? Less recently an immigrant? What are the significant differences between a conservative whose base value is justice and a liberal with the same goals?

Too often those questions are tools in the hands of those who are willing to monetize chaos.

Polls measure the immediate response to a question which may be perceived differently than it was offered. Hackers with no scruples and dark intent can intercept the results, create their own truths for a price and lead us to either adopt our own biases and chosen truths or challenge us to look again. We embrace any attempt by the dark side if it permits justification for our own secrets.

Instead of looking at the polls to measure ourselves against the faceless, nameless masses responding to unknown contexts, we would be better if we set aside the social media and the pamphleteers in print and television and listened to our neighbors, taking turns in shared and respectful discussion about what really matters.