Opinion polls are a useful tool for assessing what the public is thinking and if comprehensive enough, for assessing the reasons behind their thinking. To base ones own opinions on them would be a mistake as the majority view is not always right, Rudd being PM is an example of this.
History is full of examples of individuals or small groups who were right in the face of overwhelming public opinion opposing them. Most of them came to a bad end but went to their deaths with that smug feeling of being the only ones who were correct, although probably regretting that they would never have the chance of saying, “I told you so.”
WSJ has an article indicating that the White House is somewhat displeased about some of the opinions that are coming out in the latest polls:
Well its great to see the other side in solid denial, “The polls say we stink, they must be biased.” But wait, despite the polls being wrong Obama is making a rush trip to Massachusetts To try to pull Coakley out of the flaming wreck of her campaign, although he must believe they are wrong about him or he would stay the hell out of it to give her a better chance.
Polling is both an art and a science, but recently it's also become a subject of political intimidation.
One shot was fired by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Dec. 8, when he dismissed Gallup's daily tracking of President Obama's job approval. It had hit a record low of 47%, and Mr. Gibbs called the results meaningless:
"If I was a heart patient and Gallup was my EKG I'd visit my doctor. If you look back I think five days ago. . . there was an 11 point spread, now there's a one point spread. . . I'm sure a six-year-old with a crayon could do something not unlike that. I don't put a lot of stake in, never have, in the EKG that is the daily Gallup trend. I don't pay a lot of attention to meaninglessness."
Polling is a science because it requires a range of sampling techniques to be used to select a sample. It is an art because constructing a sample and asking questions is something that requires skill, experience and intellectual integrity. The possibility of manipulation—or, indeed, intimidation—is great.
A recent case in point is what has happened to Scott Rasmussen, an independent pollster we both work with, who has an unchallenged record for both integrity and accuracy. Mr. Rasmussen correctly predicted the 2004 and 2008 presidential races within a percent, and accurately called the vast majority of contested Senate races in 2004 and 2006. His work has sometimes been of concern for Republicans, particularly when they were losing congressional seats in 2004 and 2006.
Most recently, Mr. Rasmussen has been the leader in chronicling the decline in the public's support for President Obama. And so he has been the target of increasingly virulent attacks from left-wing bloggers seeking to undermine his credibility, and thus muffle his findings. A Politico piece, "Low Favorables: Democrats Rip Rasmussen," reported on the attacks from blogs like the Daily Kos, Swing State Project, and Media Matters.
Interestingly Massachusetts if Cloakley wins will be known as MassachusettEs, although I probably shouldn’t put shit on her over proof reading as I have my own faults in this area. I quite often let really badly split infinitives get through.