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What percent just don't care?

We’ve been in the midst of a presidential campaign for months now, though I suspect that for much of the populace there has been more intense interest in the Kardashian wedding.* But as with other reality series, its fan base, though a minority, is loyal, and nothing stimulates it more than the weekly auguries, the opinion polls.

Over at HeadsUp: The Blog you will find cautionary admonitions about those auguries, which often have no more substance than the flights of birds by which the Romans attempted to divine the future. You should read it, but I m going to summarize a few points by way of protecting you from the breathless, and often brainless, energy that journalists tend to bring to the subject of opinion polling.

Item: Note who was surveyed. General population? Republicans? Likely Republican voters?

Item: Check the margin of error and the confidence level of the sampling. If the difference between two candidates lies within the margin of error, it’s misleading to say that one leads.

Item: Note who did the polling, and for whom. Reputable independent service? For a newspaper? For a candidate? It’s a pity that you don’t get to see the questions, because that would help you understand whether the wording skewed the responses.

Item: Ignore any report that “averages” polling results. You cannot reliably average the results of different questions put to different sampling groups at different times.

Item: Opinion fluctuates—and has been particularly volatile among the people following the Republican candidates. You should be skeptical about conclusions from polls about “trends,” because, as you have seen, those trends may well have reversed in another week or so. And no actual votes have yet been cast.

Item: Every election season the Sober Ponderers bemoan that the coverage has been that of a horse race rather than a discussion of the Issues. That, too, you can safely ignore, because once the bell rings and “They’re off,” so are the journalists who follow them. And the public too, at least those who follow the race, because the Issues articles are the ones nobody reads. The public prefers the narrative, because it likes reality shows.

The presidential race is in fact America’s original reality show. It would be difficult to find anything in the current cycle—and I include all the fatuities that Der Spiegel catalogues—more superficial and idiotic than William Henry Harrison’s successful “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign in 1840. When we tire at last of the Kardashians, we will always have the Republicans and the Democrats.


Additional item: Your word of the week is desultory.


*Der Spiegel suggests that the current Republican contest for the nomination more nearly resembles a reality series than anything else, describing the candidates as a “club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses.” But what do foreigners understand about the United States anyway?



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:01 AM | | Comments (8)


Couple of things. Thing one: For polling information intelligently discussed, try the FiveThirtyEight site ( They completely nailed the numbers for the 2008 election.

Thing two: Any bemoaning of what it is that interests Americans (or probably humanity) about presidential elections lacks historical context; I am doubtful that most elections in history were anything but the reality shows/soap operas of their day. Anyone who thinks that a significant proportion of the electorate was ever interested in substantive issues and nuanced discussion is deluded. Hence the need for candidates to ultimately boil their campaigns down to bumper stickers.

Also please note that in a typical opinion poll, the margin of error applies to each candidate's total. So for a condidate to have a lead beyond the margin of error, it needs to be double that number.

If the margin is +/- 3 points, candidate A needs to be more than 6 points ahead for that "lead" to escape the margin of error.

The only poll that counts is the one that will be taken early next November.

The well-respected Hamburg Germany-based mag, Der Spiegel's recent take on the ongoing Republican run-for-the-presidential-nomination----what boils down to a kind of grand-scale dog-and-pony show, IMHO is a hyperbolic stretch in itself. Yet I partially agree w/ their jaded observation, in that I too see the daily twists-and-turns, he-said-she-said tenor of the campaigning enterprise as highly reminiscent of many a sleazy cable reality TV show. (Any of those dreadful, gaudy "Real Housewives of............" series, will do, as a case in point.)

But I submit that the investigative reporters and commentators at Der Spiegel have their plate fairly full these days, as it is, w/ the likes of such fallen European fading luminaries as News Corps' Murdochs, the disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Straus Kahn, and the political demise of that over-sexed Italian buffoon, Silvio Berlusconi. Not to mention faithfully covering the unravelling going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket economic travails of many fiscally struggling EU states.

So Der Spiegel, kindly leave the hard-hitting reportage and punditry to OUR local media wonks on this side of the Pond, thank you. Hmm...... although on second thought, perhaps a (theoretically) more objective perspective from afar, beyond the current stateside GOP pre-primary fray's hype and bombast, from our European comrades-in-media might offer a refreshingly new angle on the Republican's run-to-the-wire. But please, without the almost inevitable added soap-opera hype. A tough road to hoe, I must admit.

Turns out, from yesterday's not so surprising announcement, candidate Herman Cain isn't able (no pun intended). And Newt (the four-legged, reptilian version having the ability to grow a new tail from a severed stump) has risen like the mythic phoenix from his former state of late-'90s national disgrace, actually vaulting to the political flavor-of-the-week status, as the former pizza maven falls to the slings-and-arrows of alleged infidelity.

(Let's face it, could a sizable slice of the American electorate actually gotten its head (and heart) around the concept, let alone the reality, of TWO African-American men running for the highest political office in the land. We've come a long way, baby, but perhaps not quite far enough, at this juncture.)

Interestingly, the long-running weekend newspaper supplement, PARADE, ran a rather lengthly, mostly Q&A, piece by veteran Washington Beltway pundit and former White House speechwriter, David Gergen, entitled, "A Mitt Romney You Haven't Seen Yet"-----clearly an attempt to reveal the GOP candidate's lighter, softer, human side,, i.e., the devoted/ loving husband, responsible dad, man-of-faith, and such.

Well I would think most of us kinda surmised old Mitt had his "human side", although early on in his political career he seemed more akin to a Hollywood-style leading man, hunky-type cyborg, in his almost mechanical, stiff, unblinking on-stage demeanor. But I digress.

As for the political polls and their resultant stats and percentage indicators, as some media sage once opined, "Statistics can be manipulated for good, or ill...... to mean almost anything. They generally don't amount to a hill of beans".......... or words to that effect.

Enough said.


I am not a fan of reality shows, but it's hard to turn away from this one--just as most people slow down to look at a horrid traffic accident.

To be fair, Kim Kardashian is more callipygous than Jon Huntsman.

Cheap Jim,

At least you appear to have come by your online moniker honestly, 'cause that "callipygous" bit (butt?) was a REAL cheap shot------- slighting GOP pol Jon Huntsman much more than the ample-derriered Ms. Kardashian, I'd contend.

I guess you might say as one of the obvious laggards in the current GOP run for the Republican presidential nomination, Huntsman is clearly bringing up the REAR in the race for our Nation's highest political office. (Groan)

Did you hear that a few months back the callipygous Kardashian actually went to great lengths (or depths) to prove that her bodacious backside was 100% genuine Grade-K feminine pulchritude, w/ no silicon implants to be found. After discreet, cable-televised X-rays of her bum were complete (had to get all the key angles, right?), the presiding doctor, on oath, swore that Kim's posterior 'ass-sets' were totally real, and implant-free. Case closed.

Glad we got that burning question resolved.

Jim, thanks for the new word, "callipygous". Who knew?

Can't wait to drop that one at my next social gathering. "Callipygous.......... say WHAT?"


Prof. M.,

Before you write off (get it?) Anglicanism, you may want to read this:

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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