DSCN0608“Hon, I think that’s your phone!” Charles never takes his gaze off the television.

“What?” Alice continues to stir the soup.

“Your phone! Your phone! It’s ringing!” Still he watches the activity on the screen.

“What?” Alice glances around.

“Your phone!” Charles runs his hand over his head where his hair used to be.

“My bone?” Alice looks at the soup in confusion.

“Your phone!” Exasperated, Charles lifts a gnarled forefinger, and gestures at the table. “Answer your phone!”

“My phone?” Her voice wavers. “My phone isn’t on.”

“Then what—oh, it’s gone now. Never mind.”

“Never mind,” she echoes, and turns back to give the soup a final stir. “Supper’s ready, dear. Would you please get some bowls out?”

He keeps staring at the flatscreen on the wall.

“Dear?” No response. “Charles?” She turns off the stove and steps toward him. “Charles, dear?” She waves a hand in his direction. “Charles!”

“Huh?’” He lifts his head.

“Supper’s ready!” She points at the soup pot on the stove.

“Is supper ready?” he asks.

“Yes!” She yells. “Get out the bowls!” She walks back to the stove.

He cocks his head, listens, then shrugs and looks back at the TV.

Meanwhile, at Second West, East Campus Hall, MIT, John strolls into his dorm room, Red Bull in hand.

“Hey,” he greets his roommates, who are both bent over their laptops, ears plugged with buds, fingertips clicking.

“Hey,” says Julian, as Marshall merely nods.

“Either of you seen the new poll on Assassin’s Creed?” John asks, as he sinks into his chair.



“Right.” John adjusts his ear buds, and starts typing.

Later that evening, Charles, Jr., and his wife, Lois, chuckle.

“That Sheldon,” she says, “sometimes he reminds me so much of John.”

“No,” corrects Charles, Jr., “John is much more like Leonard.”

“Oh, I don’t know—who’s that say is calling?”

Charles, Jr., peers at the screen. “Don’t recognize the number. Just ignore it. Say, aren’t we supposed to call John tonight?”

Lois shakes her head indulgently. “No, dear. Tonight is Paige. Sunday night is John. Hand me the phone, will you?”

Still later, Charles and Alice are both sitting in their living room, which is lit only by the blue light from the television, and one small table lamp. Charles is occupied in listening carefully to the voices on TV, and occasionally yelling a response to something that annoys him, or with which he completely agrees. Alice is mostly ignoring the TV, and ignoring Charles, and is instead engrossed in 50 Shades of Gray. An occasional “Oh!” or “Oh, my!” escapes her lips, sometimes punctuated with, “Well, I never! Do people really do that?”

Charles is unaware that she is speaking, but at one particularly inflammatory statement, he snorts, “The nerve of some people! I wish those polling people would call me! They never call real people! They can’t, not with those answers they put up! They should call me! I’d give them whatfor!”

Alice murmurs, “That’s nice, dear.”

She turns the page.

“Oh, dear. My, my.”

She glances shyly over Charles’ way, then bites her bottom lip, and dives back into the book.

Fun scenario aside, let’s segue to the point: when these companies conduct all these hourly polls, who are they talking to? Can we believe the results, when the questions can be spun, the answers can be outright lies, and the sample size doesn’t represent any known segment of society?

As Mark Twain (among others) said, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.” And polls are all statistics, at least those parts that aren’t educated guesses, or out and out WAGs.

And how do we know what the polls are supposed to prove? Either campaign may decide that it is in their interest to have their candidate be ahead, or to be behind. That being the leader may attract those voters who want to jump on a popular bandwagon. Or that voters can be whipped into a frenzy if they think that their favorite will lose unless they get all their friends and neighbors behind him.

When we don’t know what the point of the polling is; when we don’t know what questions were asked, or in what order; when we don’t know who was asked those questions, when the answers change by the hour, how can we put any stock into polling? So what is the point of putting new numbers on the map every 5 minutes? Danged if I know.

Americans would be better served if those minutes wasted in parsing the minds and thoughts and preferences of mythical likely or registered or probable or whoknowswhat voters would be spent in, I don’t know, maybe reporting. On the news. Or the world at large. Or the policies of the candidates. Or why business owners are keeping all their assets offshore, and what it would take to bring that money back to be invested in this country. Or how we can really serve our children, in education, reducing the debt, increasing their security. Just a few items like that. But, of course, that kind of reporting requires actually doing some investigating. It’s much easier to pay a polling company to wing up a few questions, based on some questionable social science, to obtain results that can be spun for either side, depending on what metric they use.

Until we reach that point, please tell me, are you registered with either party? Who did you vote for in the last election? If the election were held today, who would you vote for? How important is Candidate A’s stand on the all-important question of thingamadoodles? And does the fact that he has been cheating on his wife for the past five years make any difference in your likely vote? Well, thank you for your time. And don’t forget to vote.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Elections, Politics

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