“Saturday Night Live” used to have this skit with comedian Jon Lovitz as Tommy Flanagan, a member, umm, president of the Pathological Liars Anonymous Association, who joined the Army at age 13, went to Vietnam and was injured catching a mortar shell in his teeth, was promoted to three-star general and then worked as a journalist for the National Inqui—, err, Geographic — yeah, that’s the ticket.
And that’s kind of how the polls giving former Vice President Joe Biden such hefty double-digit leads over President Donald Trump seem.
As Lovitz-slash-Flanagan might say: Biden leads by 4, no wait, 8, no wait, 88 points. Almost a bazillion, in fact. Yeah. That’s the ticket.
Can the polls at this point in time truly be trusted?
Of course not.
Polls are snapshots in time, hardly predictive of where voters’ minds will be on Election Day. More than that, polls are often purposely skewed by those with political axes to grind. The numbers depend on who’s asked, what they’re asked, in what order the questions are asked, by what phrases they’re asked — a whole host of variables that can be twisted and turned and tortured to mean nearly whatever is willed.
And once upon a time, the country collectively knew this.
“It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that surveys became a fixture of political campaigns,” wrote D. Sunshine Hillygus, in her 2011 Oxford University Press-published essay on behalf of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, while serving as an associate professor of political science at Duke University.
There has been “an explosion in the number of election polls in the United States,” and it “is telling that polling for the next presidential election now begins the day after the previous one,” she wrote.
In other words: It’s a non-stop polling world out there. And politicians are always, constantly, continuously on high public opinion alert.
“On November 5, 2008, Gallup reported that Sarah Palin led as a potential Republican candidate for the 2012 president election,” Hillygus wrote.
Yeah. That’s the ticket.
Former President Bill Clinton ratcheted public opinion polling to new heights.
In a telling NBC interview in 1999 between the news outlet’s Claire Shipman and the former Clinton adviser and pollster Dick Morris, Shipman asked: “How healthy do you think it is for a president to rely on polls to — to come up with his policy?”
The segment opener, just as tellingly, was this: “Whether choosing a vacation spot or determining how voters would react to policy proposals, President Bill Clinton has relied heavily upon public opinion polls.”
And now recent polls have Biden besting Trump by 1 point, by 7 points, by 10 points, by 16 points — by, umm, 66 points?
A zillion. A bazillion, even.
Yeah. That’s the ticket.
It’s all the same meaningless drivel.
The numbers at this point — really, at almost any point, even at the point of the last minutes of Election Day itself — are but grains of salt. They give the media something to mull; the pundits something to opine upon; the politicians in both camps something to yak as proof of this versus proof of that.
But they’re, by and large, meaningless.
As meaningless as the Pulitzer Prize that Lovitz, er, Flanagan won while making $20,000 a yea—, er, month, in journalism.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley. Listen to her podcast “Bold and Blunt” by clicking HERE. And never miss her column; subscribe to her newsletter by clicking HERE.