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 Kinsley: Tea Party Tea Leaves Show Murkiness of Polling

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Join date : 2011-11-14

Kinsley: Tea Party Tea Leaves Show Murkiness of Polling Empty
PostSubject: Kinsley: Tea Party Tea Leaves Show Murkiness of Polling   Kinsley: Tea Party Tea Leaves Show Murkiness of Polling Icon_minitimeFri Dec 02, 2011 8:45 am

A year ago, 27 percent of those
polled nationwide said they agreed with the Tea Party, and 22
percent said they disagreed. Last month, according to the Pew
Research Center for the People & the Press, it was the reverse:
27 percent said they disagreed with the Tea Party, and 20
percent agreed.

Actually, thatís not such a big deal, is it? A 5 to 7
percentage point swing over a year: Is this the stuff of
counterrevolutions? If the Tea Party folks wish to feel a bit
paranoid about the publicity this poll got, when it was released
this week, they have some justification. Itís not that the news
media is biased against the Tea Party. We love the Tea Party;
itís been good to us. However, we are biased in favor of change.
The story must evolve, even if that means moving backward and
repeating itself. Having built the Tea Party up, it is now our
job to knock it down a peg or two. Occupiers, donít gloat.
Youíre next.

In fact, whatís most impressive about these polls is that
both a year ago and now more than half the population declined
to express an opinion. They said they neither agreed nor
disagreed with the Tea Party. As it happens, that is the right
answer. No one could possibly have known whether he or she
agreed with the Tea Party a year ago, and itís not a lot easier
now, because the Tea Partyís philosophy is largely unformed,
except for a general sort of self-righteous bitterness about
having a government.

The decline in the Tea Partyís popularity -- to the extent
that it isnít an invention of the news media, just as the
explosive growth of the Tea Party was -- is caused by outbreaks
of specificity among Tea Party leaders. As soon as they get
specific, they invite opposition, because the numbers have to
add up and they canít.

Courage to Refuse

I salute anyone who says ďdonít knowĒ to a pollster. The
best thing, of course, would be if every citizen took the time
to develop an informed opinion on the issues of the day. But the
second-best arrangement would be a population with the courage
to refuse to express opinions on subjects they donít know enough
about. Or on subjects, such as the Tea Party, about which no
thumbs-up-or-down answer is really possible.

The people I wonder about are the 5 percent or so who
changed their minds about the Tea Party over the past year. On
what basis did they reach the conclusion that the Tea Party was
not their bag? Did they spend the year studying Tea Party
manifestos, and then calculate the extent to which their own
views aligned with the Tea Partyís? Or did they just happen to
wake up feeling grumpier than they had felt the day the
pollsters called a year ago?

This is why I donít write columns about the merits of
nuclear power or the future of the euro. Even though, like every
columnist, I get paid for pretending to be omniscient, and am
even given paid time to educate myself on topics I may be
ignorant about, I give myself a few free passes. Otherwise, I
might go mad with knowledge and find myself expelled from the
garden, like Adam.

Unfortunately (at least for me and my colleagues), the
pseudo-omniscient columnist is slowly being driven out of
business by ďcrowd-sourcing.Ē An answer about the euro or
nuclear power will emerge from the general conversation on the
Web -- blogs, comments, Facebook, Twitter, Economist articles
you used to read back when you had to pay for them, and so on.
This method is at least as likely to get the answer right as a
lone columnist pretending to know everything. In his classic
ďPublic Opinion,Ē published in 1922, Walter Lippmann argued that
technology was getting too complicated for most people to
understand, and that experts were needed to make pivotal
decisions. These days, the decisions are too complicated for the
experts, but crowd-sourcing may come to the rescue.

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