Cuomo: Polls don’t necessarily tell us what matters


(NewsNation) — Bill Maher said something very funny on my show a few weeks ago, and it’s mostly funny because it’s very true. No matter what’s happening, you can always bet on headlines as you get close to Election Day saying “the race tightens.”

There is some truth to that, it does happen. While you might think that after the suffocating commercials and endless coverage, people would have made up their minds, most of you tend to make your decisions on who to vote for in the weeks immediately preceding the election.

But the reason that headlines change also provides an insight into the game — polls, which are the basis for the belief that races are tightening. It’s perhaps one of the most troubling developments in our political culture. It’s the soft science in political science. I have always thought the phrase “political science” to be an oxymoro,n because politics is more about feels than fact.

On one level, polls give you relatively quick measures for what is happening that are easy to judge. But they also feed our addiction to sugar, sweet and empty calories that give us a rush of false confidence that we know the state of the race. It’s food for our coverage.

Full disclosure: polls sure have made covering elections easier. Constant headlines from changing numbers is certainly easier than heading out onto the hustings and talking to locals to figure out what a race is about. They also give you a great sense of certainty in a very uncertain situation, and we like that. We like the convenience.

Now, to be fair, the polls can be accurate and often are. The problem, however, is even though it is supposed to be a mathematical calculation within a margin of error, they can be off-base. Presidential polls have been wrong in six of the last 21 elections.

More important than the inaccuracy is how they can mislead — they give a misimpression about what matters and how much it matters in a race. They can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you keep pounding the poll numbers about what’s happening and people are taking that in all the time, there’s a better chance that people will vote based on what they think is going to happen. Polls could depress voter turnout, enhance voter turnout, and certainly shape voter turnout.

Here is a quick rule about polls: Why people are voting, what they are motivated by, is solid ground. But who people are voting for can be more artificial and persuasive than indicative.

For example, a New York Times poll released Monday shows a large shift in independent women voters. In September, they favored Democrats by 14 points. Now, independent women are backing Republicans by 18 points. This is surprising, considering how much Democrats have focused on women and the threat Republicans pose to abortion rights.

The poll showed that the economy is still the issue on top of voters’ minds and that abortion rights is not driving women’s motivations. So why the shift? Maybe they feel there’s nothing they can do, maybe they’re more worried about other things. It could be a messaging failure for Democrats or just a misjudgment by media of what matters to people outside the bubble.

The poll also showed that 49% of likely voters said they planned to vote for a Republican to represent them in Congress on Nov. 8, compared with 45% who planned to vote for a Democrat.

But you know what wasn’t on the list? Russia. As someone who has been on the front lines of the war in Ukraine, I can tell you we’re making a mistake by not making it a priority.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin is utilizing Iranian-supplied drones, and now, more troops are being station at the Belarus border. The president of Belarus says it’s only a defensive posturing, but we know he’s probably at Putin’s beckon call. The war should be a priority because it could be the biggest situation Congress has to deal with soon.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not of NewsNation.

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