Yes, a poll is a useful tool for gaining insight and information, but it is only one arrow in the quiver. Without qualitative insight — talking with voters face to face to judge their mood, emotion, intensity and opinion — polls can be inconsequential, and occasionally wrong.
The Cantor campaign’s catastrophe is not without modern precedent, even if the size and scope were extreme. Anyone remember Al Gore winning Florida, John Kerry winning Ohio and, of course, President Mitt Romney?
The simple truth remains that one in 20 polls — by the simple rules of math — misses the mark. That’s why there is that small but seemingly invisible “health warning” at the end of every poll, about the 95 percent confidence level. Even if every scientific approach is applied perfectly, 5 percent of all polls will end up outside the margin of error. They are electoral exercises in Russian roulette. Live by the poll; die by the poll.
This is all heinoously self-serving bullshit, of course. The poll guy is out beating strawpolls to death in his own defense. See, I do remember Al Gore, John Kerry, and Mitt Romney. What I don’t remember is any pollster giving them a 34 point lead a few days before the election, and then seeing them lose by 11.
That’s an error of 45 points, and there were none such in the elections he mentions. Missing the final by two or three points (most of the polls he cites for these other guys were actually within a legitimate margin of error) is not a massive mistake. Missing it by 45 points is.