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Texas Observer VOLUME 94, NO. 19 A Journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Founding Editor: Ronnie bugger Editor: Nate Blakeslee Managing Editor: Barbara Belejack Associate Editor: Jake Bernstein Managing Publisher: Jim Ball Circulation Manager: Rosie Bamberger Art Director: Julia Austin Poetry Editor: Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editor: Roxanne Bog,ucka Development Director: Charlotte McCann Interns: Jessica Chapman, Rachel Proctor, Emily Pyle, Emily Rapp Seitz Contributing Writers: Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Louis Dubose, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Steven G. Kellman, Lucius Lomax, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, Karen Olssonjohn Ross, Brad Tyer. Staff Photographers: Alan Pogue, Jana Birchum. Contributing Artists: Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Gary Oliver, Penny Van Horn, Gail Woods. Editorial Advisory Board: David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Sissy Farentholdjohn Kenneth Galbraith, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Maury Maverick Jr., Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid. In Memoriam: Bob Eckhardt, 1913-2001 Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 Texas Democracy Foundation Board: Ronnie bugger, Marc Grossberg, Molly lvins, D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Gilberto Ocanas, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips. The Texas Observer entire contents copyrighted 2002, is published biweekly except every three weeks during January and August \(24 issues profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin,Texas 78701. Telephone: E-mail: [email protected] World Wide Web DownHome page: . Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, Texas. Subscriptions: One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13/year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 prepaid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes: The Texas Observer is indexed in Access:The Supplementary Index to Periodicals: Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981. The Texas Observer index. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to: The7iwas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. The Books & the Culture section is partiallylittnied through grants iron: the City of .4ustin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission and 11w1Yriter:\( League of Texas, both in cooperation !yid: the Texas Commission on the Arts. T wo polls on the U.S. Senate race in Texas were released in the final weeks of September. The first, con ducted by the University of Houston Center for Public Policy and Rice University School of Social Sciences, put Republican candidate John Cornyn ahead by six points against Democrat Ron Kirk. Commissioned by the Houston Chronicle and KHOU-TV Channel 11, the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. A week later, a California-based polling firm called Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates released a survey that had Kirk ahead in the race by four points. That poll had a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points. Did Ron Kirk do something special in the week between the two polls to surge ahead by 10 points? No.The contradictory polling simply underscores a dirty little secret in today’s politics: Horse-race polling, especially in tight races, is all but meaningless. And now, even former adherents of this black art confirm it. “Politicians and pollsters must admit the new shortcomings of their once highly reliable polls,” writes former political consultant Dick Morris in The Hill. Morris pointsout that in 2000 almost all of the national polls were wrong in their predictions that W. would garner more votes than Al Gore. Many of those same pollsters predicted a tight Senate race between Rep. Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton for the open Senate seat in New York. \(Clinton won curate polling on a general unwillingness of the citizenry to respond to telemarketers. A clear sign of this is the growing popularity of “no-call” laws now embraced by 28 states, including Texas. In-person polling doesn’t work as a replacement because it’s too expensive and few polling firms are willing to send their workers into the kinds of neighborhoods necessary to get a representative sample. Nor will Internet polling do, because blacks and Latinos are not online in the same numbers as whites. It is also difficult to find reliable lists of voter e-mail addresses. In his column, Morris doesn’t delve into the difficulties in accurately forecasting black and Latino turnout or first-time voter performance. This might be an issue in the Texas gubernatorial campaign, where polls have indicated a sizable lead for Republican Rick Perry. Democrat Tony Sanchez is counting on a big Latino turnout, including many who have only just been registered. Although internal polling by campaigns can be helpful for judging trends and taking the temperature on issues, it is the newspaper horse race polls that are most problematic. Newspapers love them because they are a cheap, easy way to give the illusion that they have good political coverage. But the danger of relying on polling is that surveys, while often inaccurate, can influence public opinion. The small percentage of the American public who still believe what they read in the media might actually consider the numbers underneath the banner headlines to be true. Most newspaper polling stories don’t include lengthy descriptions of the samples or the wording of the questions asked, which might, if properly explained, give the reader a better sense of how reliable they are. Poll results are like any statistical exercise: Strip away the veneer of objectivity, and you’ll find a “science” that can be molded to any agenda. Nowhere is this more alarming than in the debate over whether the U.S. should invade Iraq. Polling has consistently shown that Americans favor an invasion, while anecdotal reporting indicates that there is widespread unease over the prospect. When poll continued on page 20 EDITORIAL Poll Pollution 10/11/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3