Political junkies love polls. We relish pouring over the results, watching trends, dissecting the internals. However, watching the campaign unfold, I wonder if Canadians and the political process in general, aren't best served by a ban on polling during election campaigns.
There is a certain fickle quality to the electorate. No one would dispute the fact that external influences often times slant our voting preferences. The media has become obsessed with polling and their coverage is often times influenced by the mood the surveys reflect. I don't suggest this fact as evidence of an anti-Liberal bias, because I think the dynamic works both ways. Would a stop Harper mood develop if the polling didn't show a potential majority, and the corresponding media speculation? Would Martin's ideas be given more coverage if the media was preoccupied with talk of failure, supported by polling? Would the NDP benefit from coverage based on substance and not king maker speculation?
My point is, wouldn't we have a more organic election if we banned election polling and let events unfold naturally. The media would be forced to take their cues from things such as rally sizes, campaign energy and the debate of ideas. News coverage wouldn't begin within the framework of what polls tell us. The electorate is volatile, and above all impressionable, these polls feed momentum and also blunt rebounds. Fickle people may decide to back the winning horse because that is what they have been told. Others may vote strategically to block certain parties they fear. More people cast their votes, based on perception, than they do the issues, primarily because of how polls shape the campaign.
I really think we have reached the saturation point with polling, they now dominate the landscape, instead of acting as interesting sidebars. We have also seen some curious developments with possible polling manipulation. Is it merely coincidence that the one poll that shows the biggest Conservative lead, is also funded by the same entity that threw its support behind that party? I think we are naive to believe that pollsters self interest has no influence on this supposed objective medium. Take this one poll out of the equation, and we would hear more talk of a Liberal comeback- of course this works the other way as well.
Imagine an election with no polling, where coverage relies on our own perceptions and feelings. More time spent on the substance, the issues and less on the speculation and trends. The media always trumpets their objective approach, but clearly we have reached a stage where the tail wags the dog and media merely mirrors the pollsters mood. What is the downside of a ban on polling?