For sure, as Frank Bruni points out, there’s an addiction to polls. And he confesses he’s “guilty” of the habit.
The addiction is evident in the increasing use of polls even though it’s known, by Bruni and many others, that polls often are inaccurate/incorrect/wrong. Pollsters and those who rely on polls, similar to those hooked on heroin, can’t stop doing what they know they shouldn’t.
There shouldn’t be polls, and no one should rely on polls, because (1) “they [polls] come to widely different conclusions”, (2) there are many “prominent examples of how poorly they sometimes predict outcomes. They botched the most recent parliamentary elections in Britain and Israel. They botched the 2014 midterms in the United States, grossly miscalculating the margins in various congressional and gubernatorial races”, (3) another poll “was 14 points off”, (4) “[low quality . . . polls. . . . [are] common”, (5) cellphone usage “has complicated polling. . . . [and] can lead to imperfect results”, and (6) the “representative[ness]” of polls is “increasingly questionable” .
Nevertheless, he writes, “[we]’re leaning harder than ever on polling precisely when that makes the least sense”. “Polls are . . . irresistible”; their deficiencies are known but that doesn’t stop reliance on them. Bruni concludes with an apology for the addiction and the likelihood of its continuation: “Over the next few weeks. . . . we in the media [may] be forced to apologize anew for our poll-made behavior. Sadly, that doesn’t mean we’ll change it.”
What’s even more sad is that the addiction to polls is only part of the story. As I point out in The Problem with Survey Research, there’s an addiction to survey research, to all forms of asking, including interviews, surveys, focus groups and, of growing popularity, asking for stories. See also my post, “Interviewer Lynn Barber is Addicted to Interviewing“.