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Are Distorted Polls a Campaign Tactic?

By       Message Bill Willers       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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"We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false." -- William Casey, former CIA director

"We can't let that whole generation and a whole segment of the population just slide away out to the Internet and retrieve what information it wants without being in on it." -- Tom Brokaw, NBC news anchor

The Republican right's overwhelming strength is, as it has been for many years, a favorable media ownership allowing it to manufacture and perpetuate any myth that might serve it (chief among them the myth of "the liberal media") and to filter from the news any information not friendly to its interests.

Tom Brokaw, on Meet The Press, Sunday, September 14, reported recent poll results from NBC, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and Newsweek showing McCain and Obama tied at 46% each, but with McCain winning by country miles in just about every "internal" category -- "strong leadership qualities", "knowledge and experience", "shared principles and values" (click here). "So many of our viewers and so many people who have been polled just don't think he's [Obama] ready to lead in a dangerous world" opined General Electric's Brokaw who has been quoted as saying with regard to GE's former CEO, "I think Jack Welch is the smartest boss I ever had, and he signs my paychecks". Brokaw also reported during the program that McCain had enjoyed a greater "bounce" in the polls from his convention than Obama had from his "... for all the theatrics at the football stadium."

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I live in Wisconsin, the "Vermont of the Midwest", home of "Fighting Bob LaFollette" and the old Progressive Party, and I travel widely about the state in both rural and urban situations where I see Obama's signs, whether in yards or on bumpers, outnumbering McCain's by at least a 5/1 margin. So it's a surprise to learn from NBC's political director (during the same Meet the Press program) that Wisconsin, formerly firmly in the Obama camp, has now become a "toss-up" state.

Polls these days are making little sense, unless one has actually had the experience of being polled and has learned the power to influence results that lies with those who craft the questions and choose the populations to be polled. In any event, results at great variance with what one sees in real life do raise a question about how manipulated poll results might influence the votes of people who, perhaps having no strong leaning to begin with, nevertheless have a strong need to be on a winning side. There is apparently a fraction of the population easily impacted by what one psychologist, referring to the phenomenon, called a kind of "social contagion".

A trait of what has become known as Karl Rove Strategy is that it is multi-pronged. A facet of it apparently looks to garner a percent or two by each of a number of tactics, e.g. purged voter roles (click here) and doctored computer voting, with the result that the many relatively small gains when taken collectively become significant enough to sway an election. Since so much is now hidden from public view, and because corporate and Republican interests are now in firm control of non-Internet information distribution in the U.S., it is logical to look at polls with a good deal of suspicion, whether from NBC, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek or any other source.

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Personally, I'm not buying what they're selling.


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Bill Willers is emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

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