Remember those golden days of this election season when a poll or two came out each week, and we political junkies pored over it with the glee of 5-year-olds at Christmas?
That joy has turned to ash in our mouths of late as each day is packed full of competing poll numbers that often seem to tell contradictory stories.
In the past week alone, at least nine polls have been released on where the presidential race stands in Ohio, and at least seven have come out in Virginia. A CBS News-Quinnipiac-New York Times poll in Virginia said that President Obama led by two points; in a Roanoke College survey, it was Mitt Romney by five. And the pollsters were in the field at the same time!
What all that polling means is that partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different.
And for those rare, exotic birds known as true independent voters, the panoply of polling leaves them at a loss — baffled by how so many surveys can show so many contradictory things.
Here’s the truth: Polling is, and always has been, equal parts art and science. Deciding what questions to ask, in what order to ask them and whether to weight the results to a preconceived idea of the poll sample’s partisan makeup are all judgment calls. And just like the charge/block call in college basketball, different pollsters define best practices differently.
Polling, for proving that you can have too much of a good thing, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail Chris Cillizza at firstname.lastname@example.org.