Monday, May 31, 2004

Let’s stop the nonsense now

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, I know. My plan was to be posting items that cover a wide range of ideas and possibilities that affect us in our day-to-day lives. Or as I put it in the title of this blog, “A look at the events of Dave's world, updated as circumstances warrant.” But it seems I can’t quit writing about this gosh-darned federal election. So just a short one this morning.

Over the weekend, I saw a few stories about polls and their influence on the election. Is there any doubt that they affect the outcome? Call me grumpy, but I side with Dr. Foth on this issue. The media now is trumpeting the fact that the Liberals are sliding. They’re into a minority government, perhaps even moving to a Conservative minority. These predictions are given as fact. Then the question becomes, how will the parties handle this new reality. The media and the polls have completely hijacked the democratic process, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s not that I don’t like statistics, and polling. But I think it’s dangerous to start talking about the results as if they were “objective” or somehow represent reality. They are no such thing. For example, suppose a reputable polling company went out and polled 1200 voters randomly on election day, then extrapolated those results and compared them to the reality of the actual results? Does anyone seriously believe that they’d be right? Or even close? Do you really believe that the pollsters would be right 19 times out of 20? I don’t think so. Think about it.

I remember learning in high school about a theory that the very act of observation affects the outcome in a scientific experiment. I don’t remember who first put forward that idea. More recently, quantum physicists have discovered that the act of observing causes a change in any action. This could have profound effects on how we transmit and verify secure information, among other applications.

More relevant for me, this also means that the very act of reporting poll results affects the outcome they are supposed to be predicting. People are affected by hearing what is supposed to happen. It’s inevitable that hearing about polls will affect the outcome. So although some might argue that as individuals we have the right to know the results of these polls, I submit we should ban the publication of the results. If the various media outlets would agree to stop commissioning these polls and publishing the results, our democracy would be a much more interesting place.

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