Joe Klein makes a good point about polls on issues: They are useless. But for the press, they are heroin.
This is one of my biggest gripes with journalism as it is practiced, particularly on cable news: Polling numbers are "facts." They can be cited with absolute authority, sort of. And so they are given credence beyond all proportion to their actual importance or relevance. But they are not very truthy facts. The are imperfect impressions. They don’t tell us how many people actually know what’s in the House bill. They don’t tell us what the public thinks a plausible alternative strategy might be in Afghanistan. They are what journalists hang on to instead of actually reporting and thinking. And they are–for me, too–addictive.
Klein seems to target cable news, but have you noticed that just about every poll The Washington Post conducts it touts on its front page?
I think it’s also true that even when ascertaining opinion on politicians, polls can be misleading. If a pollster asked me if I was happy with the job Obama is doing, I’d answer “no.” Does that mean, I’m ready to vote for the next GOPer on the ballot? Not unless they can resurrect Clifford Case form the dead.