Media Swinging With the Pollsters

More than any other month of the last four years, October will be filled with reporting about polls. And many stories about them will be as puzzling as a recent Associated Press dispatch that focused on the latest surveys about the presidential race in the hotly contested state of Oregon.

"One poll conducted by an East Coast research firm gives Democrat John Kerry a 7-point lead over President Bush in Oregon," the AP wire reported. "Another gives Bush a 4-point lead." While observers scratch their heads, the battle for Oregon's seven electoral votes continues.

Four years ago, Al Gore carried Oregon by a razor-thin margin. The results may be just as close this time around, so the men on the Republican and Democratic tickets – especially Dick Cheney and John Edwards – keep flying in for their quick sound-bites and photo-ops.

As a practical matter, the incessant polling tells us that nobody really knows who's going to win the state. And that's also true of at least a dozen other "swing states."

At this point, media fixations on the polls are inundating the public with squishy – and often misleading – survey numbers that are the obsessions of campaign operatives and political pundits. From the news media, voters may hear more about those numbers than about what's at stake in the presidential election.

But no amount of political "horseracing" can un-pollute a river, restore health-care services, halt the rising costs of college tuition or bring a loved one back to life.

While advocates for ecological protection point out that pollution remains a very real problem in Oregon, many people take pride in Oregon's pioneering accomplishments. Some of the fiercest opposition to the Bush administration comes from those who are aghast at its anti-environmental record.

Oregon helped lead the way in providing health services to its residents. Now it's a very different story. Budget cutbacks have turned a state of active caring into a state of tacit neglect. Likewise, many years of Oregon budget crises and meat-ax cuts in spending have severely damaged public schools from kindergarten to state universities.

If you read the previous paragraph while replacing the first word with the name of your state, the odds are overwhelming that the description would be apt. The kinds of problems that have been damaging the quality of life in Oregon are nationwide phenomena. And that holds true for the war in Iraq.

Oregonians got the news recently that the state's Army National Guard will be sending an additional 60 soldiers to Iraq before the year ends. Seven hundred members of Oregon's National Guard are already in Iraq, and 630 more were previously announced to be on their way later this fall.

Much of the media energy now devoted to polls would be better spent on probing the veracity of the Bush administration – and not just in relation to past matters such as deceptive statements about Iraq. The White House denies that President Bush would push to institute a draft during his second term – but those denials are not credible.

Media coverage about the possibility of conscription has been quite sparse and deferential to the president's evasions. Bush campaign strategists are doing everything they can to minimize news on the subject. Of course, they don't hesitate to provide comments about the latest poll numbers.

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