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William Rivers Pitt | Why National Polls Are Meaningless

We are getting jerked around by these networks and their pursuit of revenue.

The corporate “news” networks, along with a fair segment of Hillary Nation, went flying around the room like startled titmice on Tuesday when CNN dropped the penny on its latest national presidential poll. Roaring out of the sky from nowhere like some terrible carrion bird in a James Cameron film, the poll stated that Donald Trump had clawed out a two-point lead over Hillary Clinton. Walls trembled, seas boiled, fish ate the faithful on Friday and the magnetic poles of politics played Double Dutch on the faces of a lot of people who should have known better.

People, really, come on now. How many times will you get slapped with this particular dead fish before you wake up and duck? National polls are the modern political equivalent of those cliffhanger short films they used to show before the movies back in the ’50s. Will Captain Awesome crash into the sun? To find out, tune in next week when we give you another poll bereft of meaning.

National polls are a vapid exercise in faulty math that basically lumps every state together and gives them the same weight in the measure. They would have Alabama count as much as New York. New York has 29 Electoral College votes (ECV); Alabama has nine. To crib a line from Orwell, some pigs actually are more equal than others. Any computation that puts Montana’s three Electoral College votes in the same room with California’s 55 is a computation that should be brought back to Radio Shack and sacrificed in the stockroom like the benighted goat it is.

In a nation where the Electoral College decides who gets to sit in the round room, the state-by-state polls are the whole ballgame. Consider our current situation. In the battleground states, here is where Clinton stands:

Colorado: +4 = 9 ECV

Florida: +2 = 29 ECV

Michigan: +5 = 16 ECV

Minnesota: +5 = 10 ECV

Nevada +3 = 6 ECV

New Hampshire +4 = 4 ECV

North Carolina +1 = 15 ECV

Ohio +1 = 18 ECV

Pennsylvania: +4 = 20 ECV

Virginia: +6 = 13 ECV

Wisconsin: +4 = 10 ECV

… and let’s go to the scorecard on Clinton’s standing in some other ECV-rich states firmly in her control:

California: +33 = 55 ECV

New York: +18 = 29 ECV

Illinois: +15 = 20 ECV

The rest of New England: +10 on average = 27 ECV

… which gives Clinton 281 Electoral College votes, 11 above the needed 270 to win. Even if she doesn’t run the above table, she has Maryland’s 10 ECV, the District’s three, Delaware’s three, New Jersey’s 14, Washington’s 12, Oregon’s seven and New Mexico’s five hard in the no-doubt bank to shore up the lead. The state by state numbers expose CNN’s latest national poll as not only a preposterous outlier, but as a preposterous lie. This thing isn’t close. It hasn’t been close since mid-August.

So why do it? If national polling is the empty exercise it certainly appears to be, why bother? I have a theory on this, and it hearkens back to the presidential race of 1996. A booming economy had elevated Bill Clinton’s standing to a point where he appeared unbeatable. The GOP was in disarray after Newt Gingrich ran wild and kneecapped his own party. Sen. Bob Dole won the GOP nomination; promptly fell off a stage in Chico, California; stumbled, bumbled, fumbled his way down the campaign trail; and ultimately made sure the presidential race was over in favor of Clinton in August.

Think you now, gentle reader, upon the sad and sorry fate of the corporate “news” media at this juncture. Those poor slobs had to go through most of August, all of September, all of October and the first week of November full in the knowledge that they were being comprehensively ignored. Everyone knew the deal was done, so the viewers, the political audience, tuned out and enjoyed the weather. The networks lost untold millions in advertising revenue during this televised desert because no one was watching.

I am soundly convinced that the importance of national polling came into its own after this; the process got its star turn in 2000 and has grown exponentially ever since. Never again would the corporate media allow a whole wildly lucrative campaign season slip down the “It Isn’t Close” hole. No, instead they flog national polls which change from week to week, and are in the main much tighter than actually meaningful state polls in the states that actually count toward a decisive win. Keep the butts in the seats. 1996 must never happen again.

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about Russia potentially leaning on our electoral levers come November. While that is a genuine concern, be more concerned about that shiny box in your den leaning on those levers with far greater impact. We are getting jerked around by these networks and their pursuit of revenue. It is a dangerous game; played too hard and too far, this game could legitimately disrupt the election with meaningless data. Again.

Recall the words of former Ohio Rep. Les Brown: “Television is not so much interested in the business of communications as in the business of delivering audiences to advertisers. People are the merchandise, not the shows. The shows are merely the bait.” In this instance, the election is the show, and the national polls are the bait. Be the fish who stays out of the bucket.