Contemporary American politics is awash in polling data. Everywhere a citizen turns, polls report the standing of the candidates. A constant stream of "horserace" news stories describe candidates' behavior as strategic acts prompted by the latest polls. And there are frequent expressions of concern about the impact of polls on the public, such as election-night projections based on exit polls that are perceived to affect turnout on the West Coast, where the voters still have time to cast their ballots.
After the 1996 Iowa caucuses, millionaire Steve Forbes was criticized by his Republican opponents and many in the media for spending more than $400 per vote he received. But little of the same kind of complaint was directed at a new kind of poll-based programming effort by PBS, which produced a short series of programs based on a "deliberative poll" involving 459 people who spent a weekend in Austin, Texas--at a total cost of about $10,000 per respondent. The cost of engaging in political discourse is obviously not a good measure of the quality of a democracy.
The 1996 presidential campaign saw instances wherein one form of pseudo poll, called a "push poll" by candidates and their consultants, was used in attempts to sway supporters and suppress turnout in the early primaries. Forbes, a relative newcomer to presidential politics, and Patrick Buchanan, an older hand, called these "dirty tricks"; other, more experienced Republican candidates described them as a standard campaign tool. In another new development, citizens' opinions are being solicited on the Internet. Such "log in"