POLLING AND POLITICS IN THE NINETIES
THE RESULTS OF THE 1992 presidential election and the 1994 congressional elections stunned a great many political observers, and in the process demonstrated once again the obvious, but often ignored, limits of polls: they do not forecast the future. More importantly, these two elections and, in general, the politics of the 1990s have provided additional solid evidence, if any was needed, that polling is not just an important part, but a dominant part, of the political process in America. Polling dictates virtually every aspect of election campaigns, from fund-raising to electoral strategy to news coverage. And, after our representatives are elected, polling profoundly shapes the political context in which they make public policy. Whatever its faults and its limitations, and they are many, polling matters. Even when the results are misinterpreted.
While polling has long been a major force in presidential elections, the 1992 presidential election campaign seems to have topped all others for the sheer magnitude and importance of this arcane undertaking. In the early stages of the campaign, polling seriously deluded President Bush about his chances for re-election, at the same time that it scared away many prominent Democrats from running for president. In the late stages of the campaign, polling may well have caused the election of the "wrong" man, by overestimating the strength of George Bush and underestimating the strength of independent candidate Ross Perot. And in-between,