Monday, October 22, 2012

Scrap the "Debates" - and the Polls


I’ve ranted many times that the so-called debates aren’t really debates; not in the traditional sense, not in the collegiate sense, and certainly not in the Lincoln-Douglas sense.  I think it’s time we abandoned the tradition, unless we can make it more like a real debate, and while we’re at it, let’s scrap the damnable political polls, too.

Americans, and in particular the media, treat the Presidential election as though it were some sort of prize fight or horse race.  I’m not sure the Presidential election was ever meant to be merely a spectator sport.

So much attention is paid to who’s up and who’s down in the polls, and if you take the time to look back on the last dozen or so Presidential elections, in nearly every case, within a couple of weeks of the election, the polls show the race to be essentially a dead heat – the difference between the candidates is inside the margin of error for the poll.  Just like the polls show right now.

Even in the 1980 Carter-Reagan election, the Gallup Poll (which is usually regarded as the most prestigious, but is often prone to the greatest error, particularly when it differs by more than 3% from other established and reputable polls) had Reagan only a 58% favorite.  Depending on your age, you may recall that on election night, it was such a Reagan landslide that the national TV news networks declared a Reagan win long before the polls closed on the west coast.  Carter ended up carrying only five states.

That election, with the early network projection of Reagan’s landslide, caused a minor flap.  The Constitution is pretty specific about who can vote, when the vote is to be held, and how it is to be applied (the whole Electoral College thing ought to be thrown into the trash), but it says not one word about how the results of the election are to be reported to the people.  So, the networks made essentially a gentleman’s agreement that they wouldn’t project the winner of the election until after the polls had closed on the west coast.

Since the 1988 election, the League of Women Voters – which had traditionally run the debates – was kicked to the curb by the politicians, who formed “The Commission on Presidential Debates”.  That was a huge win for the politicians and a huge loss for the people.  About all the Commission does is cater to the special desires of the candidates, with no accountability to the citizenry.  The Commission allows the candidates to make up their own rules, and has led to the wide variance in the quality of moderators, from the passive style of Jim Lehrer to the more active style of Candy Crowley.  Martha Raddatz and Crowley both acted like actual journalists, in trying to elicit specific answers from the candidates, but like Lehrer, they allow the candidates to simply repeat sections of their stump speeches unchallenged.

Unless and until the electorate shows the desire to actually have the candidates debate issues and to be called on it by the moderator when they spew stump-speech nonsense like “government takeover of health care”, the electorate would be better served by having no “debates” whatsoever.  And I’d further suggest that the networks and various news organizations make another gentleman’s agreement to stop reporting polls of any sort.  As far as I’m concerned, they’re essentially meaningless, and shed no light whatsoever in the real issues the candidates should be addressing.  The polls are nothing but a popularity contest.

While we’re at it, as long as we’re getting rid of the debates and the polls…and the Electoral College….we might as well reverse the Citizens United decision, which says corporations are people, and take a serious look at reforming the dominance of money-influenced politics.

I know: asking too much, as usual.

8 comments:

  1. I’ve ranted many times that the so-called debates aren’t really debates; not in the traditional sense, not in the collegiate sense, and certainly not in the Lincoln-Douglas sense. I think it’s time we abandoned the tradition, unless we can make it more like a real debate, and while we’re at it, let’s scrap the damnable political polls, too.

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  2. Tim--we may have finally figured out how to get Facebook to link to Blogger correctly! I like your comment, too. And, this post. I am sad to see the system manipulated as you mention, and the attention of the public become so reduced. Great post.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah - if you can't defeat the system, figure out a work-around, I guess!

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  3. If Obama loses the popular vote but wins the presidency via the Electoral College, and if the Republicans manage to take both houses of Congress in the process, there will be a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College sent to the states for ratification by the end of 2013. If there's not a revolution first.

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    1. Food for thought, Jim - what a mess it would be if Romney wins the popular vote and Obama wins via the Electoral College......85% of the electorate would have 0% understanding of what happened.

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  4. No, there won't.

    Republicans are the Stupid Party, not the Suicide Party.

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    1. Dad, just to be clear, you're saying there won't be a revolution....or there won't be a Constitutional Amendment if JB's scenario obtains?

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  5. No amendment. I'll be in my bunker for the revolution, however. Scotch from 7:00-9:00 PM, excluding Monday nights.

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