By Adam Pagnucco.
Back in the days of Maryland Politics Watch, we would occasionally set up online polls for various races. The polls had no validity, of course. They could not screen for registered voters, much less those in a particular party or county, and even those that limited each IP address to one vote could be easily gamed through multiple devices and masking software.
But we did it anyway for two reasons. First, we were greatly entertained by the thought of frenzied candidates snapping the whip over armies of interns and yelling, “Vote faster! You’re not pushing the vote button fast enough!!” And second, they got lots of eyeballs, or at least apparent eyeballs. Your author once scrutinized the traffic coming into one of our better performing online polls and discovered that most of it was coming from a handful of IP addresses.
Eventually, we stopped. The “polls” added no value to the readers’ understanding of the elections. And they also turned into a huge waste of time for candidates. After we posted yet another online poll in 2010, one candidate emailed and said, “I really hate these things. I have to drop everything and start voting!” We took that comment to heart. From that point on, your author determined that it was only worth doing a poll if we could invest it with some kind of methodological validity. That’s easier said than done with an online poll!
That has not stopped others. On Wednesday, Bethesda Magazine did an online poll on the Council At-Large race, which it admitted was “not scientific,” with SurveyMaker. The poll began making the rounds on Facebook and one political insider sent it to your author, breathlessly panting, “Unscientific, but very surprising!” Then a complete unknown, Steve Solomon, took the lead spot and folks started to understand just how unscientific this poll was.
Solomon’s “win” was not an accident. He is a sports radio host and he encouraged his listeners to vote for him on both radio and Twitter.
Solomon was not alone. Neil Greenberger sent out a blast email asking his supporters to stuff the poll. He told his list that while the poll was unscientific, “It is better to be vaulting in this poll than to be lingering.” He even said, “You don’t have to be a registered voter or live in Montgomery County vote in this poll. Just let them know who you would like to see come out ahead in the June 26 Democratic primary.”
Now look. We do not absolutely deplore all online polls. They can be fun and buzzy, and if folks want to push buttons for kicks, that’s fine. But it’s absolute cross-eyed tomfoolery to see them as containing any merit. Candidates, listen up. If you spend your time pumping worthless ca-ca like this instead of phone banking, door-knocking and raising money, your chances of winning will be about as high as the coyote’s chances of catching the road runner. Now get back to work!