Caucus Countdown: Day 3

Polling, What’s it Worth?

Caucus time in Iowa means that the spotlight is on us. The candidates come to visit, debates are held, and above all, your opinion as an Iowan will hold major precedent on a national level. Surely, with all of this comes a major amount of public opinion polling. While it is true that the reasoning for these polls vary, in essence they all seek to know one major point; who you will vote for, or at least who you think you will vote for at any given time.

Political polls, especially in Iowa, are important. The media attention political polls receive tend to sway attention to a particular candidate, providing a favorable (or unfavorable) light to a campaign. While we as voters do not always understand the “method behind the madness” involved in political polling, it still means something to us when we see a candidate rise or fall in the polls on the evening news. To most of us, this simply translates to this candidate is successful, or this one is not. “This bandwagon effect can often lead to an overall increased interest or loss of stamina within a campaign. After all, why would the average voter go out of their way to support a candidate who appears to be headed toward inevitable failure? On the other hand, why should we not consider a candidate who appears to be close to our first pick, or maybe event the frontrunner in the polls? Polls can certainly be just as helpful to a candidate as they are a setback.

However, we should never rely on polls alone to predict the outcome of an election. Or at least we should not examine polls carelessly. Take, for example, the case of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The latest polls show Clinton ahead of Sanders by a 25-point margin overall. But Sanders scores higher in other categories, such as among voters who wish to see change in the government, and previous polls show that a majority of democratic voters are looking for change. Overall, bi-partisan polls also show that both candidates would have more support than Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination.

At the same time, it should be understood that political polling is not always the most accurate way to measure public opinion. Much of this has to do with the fact that participation in polling continues to decrease. Polls participation has bottomed out in the past few decades, from more than half of respondents participating in the 1980s to less than ten percent today.

Overall, polling still remains a great way to participate in the election season. We already know that Iowans have a special privilege in picking our next president, and polls are a great way to voice that privilege. It remains perhaps one of the most direct ways that a voter’s opinion is communicated.