Polls are meant to shape public opinion, not gauge it

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this world would be a better place without political opinion polls.

Voting, of course, is essential to democracy.

Polls — on the other hand — while great for synthesization by talking heads on 24-hour broadcast television, offer nothing to the democratic process.

This is especially true in one, two and three-party systems; who among us — regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum — has not heard what has essentially become the condescending rallying cry of the modern-day liberal: a vote for Singh/May/Bernier is a vote for Scheer?

Yes, it is fact that or country currently only has four parties which could reasonably be expected to even have a miniscule chance of forming government: the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and (while I wouldn’t have said so this time last year) the Greens.

I say this in the sense not that these four parties have a realistic chance of forming government, but that they are the four parties that run enough candidates in enough ridings and have the logistical, structural and organizational support to potentially win enough seats.

This is where I lose most people.

They tell me that based on our system we will never be able to break out of the Conservative/Liberal back-and-forth, with the NDP’s more of a bellwether of the public’s unhappiness with the Conservative/Liberal dichotomy and the Greens limited to May’s seat (perhaps a few more federal seats if their party plays its cards right in October).

This is usually where I get really frustrated and explain that the mere presence of a “bellwether” party strong enough to gain official opposition status proves that the notion we can’t break out of our stalled third-party system (a system where there are three parties that win a large share of the vote but only two that realistically have a chance of forming government) is, at best, a misguided fallacy.

At worst (and this tends to be the view my general cynicism gravitates toward) polls are used, especially in one, two and three-party systems, to shape public opinion and perpetuate the dichotomous nature of a system where “you have to vote for this person, even if they aren’t that great, because have you seen this person — they’re terrible!”

It’s a cyclical issue; the reason we keep getting these lesser-of-two-evil candidates is exactly because parties like the Conservatives and Liberals know they can run just about anyone (just look at their current offerings) and partisans will still back the party (also see: Trump)

Then there is just the fact that polls are, in my view, to the detriment of smaller parties due to what essentially amounts to psychological tactics that make voters feel like their vote only counts if they vote for one of two parties any given election.

That’s reprehensible, and it’s antithetical to democracy.

It’s also why our terrible turnout rate doesn’t surprise me.

That’s the what and where, but the why is obvious too.

Billions and billions of dollars have been invested in these political behemoths across the western world; even in a country that isn’t as plagued with lobbying gone wild as the U.S., there are still intimate connections between just about every aspect of the Canadian economy and its major parties.

Why would you want to take a risk on the unknown when business as usual with the two major parties has been working for your industry over the last century?

On that note: you know what other industry is a multi-million dollar one? Public opinion polling.

As for the how we fix it (because, let’s face it, we’re probably not dismantling the political opinion portion of the market research sector any time soon) let me propose an alternative to you, and it’s a real game changer:

Vote for the person you think is the best representative for your constituency, whether they belong to one of those major parties I discussed above, or whether they are simply an independent who aligns most with your beliefs.

That’s how we save this country: by putting faith into people we trust, not taking in good faith untrustworthy polls.


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