I’m skeptical of the polls on the upcoming New Orleans elections. It’s difficult to conduct an accurate poll under our current circumstances. I’ve seen at least one that used pre-Katrina landline phone numbers. The flaws in that methodology should be obvious to anyone familiar with recent events here, but just to drive the point home: Such a methodology misses me. I could never be included in that sample because my landline hasn’t worked since the 17th Street Canal floodwalls failed.
Some pollsters are apparently using cellphones, but this too misses me. Like many New Orleanians, I only got a cell phone post-Katrina, during my evacuation. Since I was in Indiana at the time, it has an 812 area code. As far as I can figure, there’s no way a pollster would know to call my number.
I don’t like any poll that can’t count me. So I scoff at the polls.
Based on these polls, pundits tell us things like “this race is all about race.” This is often presented as the crude idea that people will vote for candidates of their color: blacks for blacks, whites for whites. As Xy and I have asked around amongst friends and co-workers, however, we’ve found virtually no support for any black candidate for mayor, regardless of the voter’s race. Most of the black people we’ve talked to seem to be leaning toward Forman. (Yes, it surprised us too.) This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, that black voters will largely support either Nagin or Landrieu. In fact, I’ve only talked to one person who’s voting for Nagin.
I don’t mean to suggest that our informal poll is somehow superior to the polls I just criticized. It’s not. If anything, it’s much less accurate — wildly inaccurate, I’m sure. I’m just saying, take all these polls with a grain of salt.
Polls make some people feel like their individual vote doesn’t matter. Some people switch their vote based on polls. These effects strike me as undesirable even when polls are accurate. But this time around, when so little is known and so much is at stake, I hope people don’t pay the polls too much mind. Vote your conscience. Don’t try to game the system.
I think that’s a good philosophy, even if I’m wrong about the polls.