Published September 26, 2012
There has probably been more discussion of polls, sample, design, questioning technique, and of course, results of opinion polls, in this election than ever before.
As someone who has made his living doing polls for the last 35 years, I can say candidly: it's a mixed blessing. It's a mixed blessing because elections ultimately shouldn't be about polls, and they shouldn't be about poll results-- they should be about issues, themes and concerns.
Part of the problem with focusing on polls and poll results to the exclusion of the discussion of broader issues is that the political class and commentariat comes to believe that anything that is recorded in the polls is of great importance, and anything that isn't is somehow not important.
In this election, with the focus on approval ratings, swing states, and sample design, we've lost sight of the fact that the real issues in the election, the real issues that the electorate cares about, are simply not being focused on.
What are these issues? First and foremost, the American people believe that the country is adrift, lacks leadership, and lacks the policies necessary to address the trenchant problems facing the nation. They recognize that we're facing a fiscal crisis, they recognize that neither side has a clear approach, and they also recognize that without some degree of conciliation and compromise, we are unlikely to be able to systematically address our problems relating to tax policy, entitlement policy, spending, and most of all, the economy and economic growth.
To be sure, these issues were discussed with at least a little frequency earlier in the year, but as we are now down to two major candidates, President Obama and Governor Romney, there's been less and less focus on what the American people want to hear about. There has been less emphasis on what citizens are concerned about, and more and more focus on voting issues: why Romney is sinking, why Obama is increasing his support, and what constitutes a gaffe, shrewd politics, or a good attack ad.
Put another way, we are facing a broad-scale crisis of democracy that the media has and is systematically ignoring.
It's a crisis of democracy because most Americans have given up on our system, they are skeptical that President Obama will be able to solve our problems, and they believe that while Governor Romney is a problem solver, they are increasingly convinced that he does not necessarily have the right stuff to be president of the United States.
To be sure, some of these issues and concerns will be addressed in October in the presidential debates, whether by accident or design.
But it would be a profound mistake to believe that because the race has been so engaged, and because we have so many surveys, so many attack ads and so many speeches, that somehow the concerns of the American electorate are being addressed.
Senator John McCain has a joke he likes to tell, which bears repeating. The Arizona senator often tells an audience that has frequently noted that the approval rating of Congress is down to 10 percent. He then pauses and says he's been looking all over, and he has yet to locate that 10 percent. Neither have I.