Be skeptical of political polls

With elections heating up in Mississippi, especially with the unusual dynamic of having two U.S. Senate seats on the ballot in the same year, it’s time not just for dueling candidates but also dueling political polls. 

A month ago, a poll commissioned by Mike Espy, the leading Democratic candidate in the race to claim the seat opened up by the retirement of Thad Cochran, showed him leading with 34 percent support, followed by Cindy Hyde-Smith with 27 percent and Chris McDaniel with 21 percent.

Not so fast, said one of Hyde-Smith’s big supporters recently. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is putting its money behind Hyde-Smith, the “establishment” Republican appointed to the vacant seat until the special election, says she is leading with 30 percent, compared to 22 percent for Espy and 17 percent for McDaniel.

McDaniel shouldn’t be the only one scoffing at the results. Not only do these polls tend to be biased toward whoever is paying for them, but they are selective in their transparency. You can bet that if Espy’s poll had showed him behind, or if the chamber poll had showed Hyde-Smith behind, the results would have never seen the light of day.

These polls are designed to help candidates raise money by convincing potential donors that their contributions are not a wasted investment. They’re used to discourage candidates from running or, if they’ve already qualified, to encourage them to drop out. And it’s hoped that they create an aura of electability in the voters’ minds for whichever camp is paying for them.

But they are slanted, and McDaniel is right when he says the only poll that really counts is the one taken on election day.

Obviously, though, his own polling shows him behind, too. If it didn’t, he’d be broadcasting the results just like his opponents.