BTC: World without polling

Slate recycles its January thought experiment.

Without polling numbers to drive their narrative, political journalists would turn to other, less direct measures of candidate strength. At the outset of campaign season, the front-runners would be designated according to the size of their war chests, and the number of endorsements each had racked up. Focus groups, man-on-the-street interviews, and even voter brain scans would get more media play. Political futures markets might become a central element of mainstream campaign coverage, rather than the fringe oddity they are today. Reporters might pay more attention to the turnout at campaign events, totting up average attendance figures and reporting them as rough guides to candidate popularity. As a result, campaign operatives would have an incentive to attract the biggest crowds they possibly could—and to hire extras to fill seats.

Even with polling, some reporters love divining great meaning from campaign event attendance. After every event on the Liberal tour (at least while I was present), there was a group discussion of how many people had been present. Everyone offered an estimate, a consensus was reached and everyone agreed on a number that would appear in that day’s reports.

At least one scribe found these head counts vaguely important—the theory being that support at a rally mirrored support in the population at large.

This might have anecdotal merit, even if it’s junk science. But in this election it was next to pointless because there was no way to compare the two leading parties—each conducting their public campaigns under such different rules and procedures.

Of course, it’s probably all junk science. Riding around the suburbs of Etobicoke with Michael Ignatieff last month, I asked him if anyone had ever confirmed that there was a correlation between lawn signs and votes. He confessed to not knowing. And almost seem afraid at the prospect of such a study.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.