I Hate Polls

Even when (maybe especially when) I might be tempted to believe them. Not just because they’re always wrong. Not just because they’re misleading. Not just because they purport “facts” not in evidence. Not just because they inflate and exaggerate whatever initial survey bias was concocted into the questions and conflate that with whatever perceptional and ideological issues the respondents inhere. Not just because the actual questions themselves are hardly ever published along with the “results” (which are themselves often interpolations based on several questions).

Playboy has been milking a poll of their readers for the last two or three issues, and I really can’t stand that one, because mostly it’s about how much smarter and richer and more enlightened the “average” Playboy reader is than the “average” American. I quote “average” because it’s really aggregate. The same mentality that believes in polls believes there’s an average reader or an average American or an average anything, and that, beyond that, it’s possible to compare and associate oneself with this golem. The reality, the aggregate, can’t be said to be much of anything except abstract. The “aggregate X is abstract” where X is reader, American, or whatever, is about the only poll-based factoid I’m willing to trust.

And it’s not that I don’t want to know what someone else, maybe even with a different perspective, thinks. The real reason I hate polls, even if they could be unbiased, even if they could be “accurate” (within some theoretical domain), is that I don’t want to know what everyone else thinks. Because the belief that one knows what “everyone” thinks, or even 60% of everyone, has a name: prejudice. Polling is inherently prejudicial, inherently populist, inherently undemocratic. And yet it carries with it the promise of self-validation, or barring that self-justification (of one’s willingness, pride even, at being in the perceived minority).

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