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Editorial: Ignore Misleading Poll Numbers When Voting

This story was written by Editorial Board, Dakota Student
As part of one of the most politically charged years in recent history, media sources have been flooding public channels with barrage after barrage of information with the latest updates on polls and the slight shifts in candidate behavior that seemingly cause poll fluctuations.

Often a two or three point shift in a national political poll can result in front page news across the country, with pundits scrambling to identify fringe issues and candidate personality quirks that may have led to that shift.

The Dakota Student has participated in some of this behavior on a smaller scale, and for good reason: Polls are often the most efficient and accurate methods of gauging public sentiment, and periodical updates on the status of political polls have a legitimate place next to other important news stories.

However, in a practice that has become pro forma during election years, many national news sources now release nearly continuous updates on polls conducted for the national presidential race.

In this sense, presidential polls that are reported as election changers can often be misleading. One, two or three point leads cannot truly be considered as indicative of anything, because a lead that small falls well within the margin of error present in almost any poll conducted on a nationwide spectrum.

Moreover, with several independent institutions each conducting their own polling systems, inconsistencies are bound to crop up. These polls do not exist on a perfect, sequential timeline, because different polling organizations will have different sample populations and, likely, different standards of operation.

Also, presidential polls have the capacity to demoralize certain voting subpopulations. People will be less likely to vote for a candidate when they are told day in and day out that that candidate's five point deficit is insurmountable.

Presidential polls serve a legitimate purpose for the people involved in political campaigns and those who are otherwise particularly interested in politics, as they provide a near-constant snapshot of the big picture. But for the average voter, political polls, with their present treatment, come with the potential to dilute and mislead citizens who are just trying to figure out who they want their next president to be.

So, as we watch and read the news, we shouldn't necessarily be wasting our investment in politics solely on the fickle ups and downs of political polls.

It's okay to ignore the polls. It's okay to disregard the fluffy pieces on marginal events in candidates' social lives. On a scale of importance, the issues of the candidates and the needs of the country trump nonexistent three-point poll turnovers any day.

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