- - Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Nobody’s any longer paying serious attention to “the issues,” unless the Donald’s sex tape and Hillary’s felonies and misdemeanors qualify as issues. Hillary naturally gets a pass, either because the media has decided that her crimes are old news or, more likely, trashy behavior is what everyone now expects from the Clintons. Besides, what’s wrong with trashy behavior?

So we’ve become a nation of poll-watchers, not the polls where everybody votes, but the polls that take the temperature of the campaign every hour on the hour. Why endure the candidates when you can watch the polls?

You could even make up your own and nobody would know the difference. Once Gallup and sometimes Roper and if you go back far enough, the Literary Digest, comprised the gold standard of polling, and everybody waited to see what they said, which was measured and spaced to make it easy to follow the pace and rhythm of the campaign. Now there’s a poll to suit everyone, and some mean more than others. Polls are not just from established standalone polling organizations like Rasmussen, but from newspapers, television stations and even radio stations. If you don’t like what the poll from Southwest Alaska A&M says, switch the channel and get the latest from the Daily Blather-Bunkum.

A new survey from The Wall Street Journal-NBC News, more respectable than some, finds Hillary up 7 points, reversing the trend of the past several days. But the UCLA Poll, also more respectable than some, says no, it’s Trump up by 2. Only time will tell, as the cliche-mongers are eager to tell us.

Another way to measure the progress of the Donald, if any, is to measure him against Mitt Romney’s performance at this point in 2012. In some places he’s doing better than Mitt, but that doesn’t tell us much more than raw polls do, because by this time four years ago Mitt Romney was looking like the latest in a procession of sad-sack Republican losers. “Vote Republican, we’re not as bad as you think,” continues as the mantra of the newly discredited Republican elites, but as a marketing tool the mantra doesn’t sell much soap.

The coverage of the campaigns threatens to make groupies of everyone. Groupies by definition groove on campaign trivia and small-grain factoids, a word coined by the novelist Norman Mailer to define something that looks like a fact but in fact is not a fact, though often accepted as a fact. The media loves factoids because it’s the chief source of them.

Once upon a time the gold standard of the pollster’s craft was the national poll, measuring the prospective popular vote. But the flowering of dozens of polls has taken over the coverage of campaigns, like the kudzu that is said to snatch small children from passing automobiles. The latest fashion is semi-learned conversation about “the battleground states,” usually Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where the chattering class says the election will be won or lost. Voters in Montana, Wyoming and West Virginia can just stay home.

The popular vote is not as popular to write and talk about as it once was, though the Electoral College nearly always reflects the popular vote, particularly when there’s a “wave election,” and popular sentiment sweeps everything before it. There’s no sign yet that this election will be a wave election. That’s why Hillary says she can’t understand why she’s not ahead of the Donald by 50 points. It’s no mystery to the rest of us.

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