The Weekly Winston: Opinion Poll Edition

By now you are probably suffering from opinion poll overload.  I decided months ago not to sign up for automatic opinion poll updates and twitter feeds, for fear of jamming my mailbox.  There seems to be a new poll about every 15 minutes; certainly several a day.  As recently at the 1980 election the major polls came out only every few days, and one of the small details that made that election so dramatic was that the major polling outfits stopped polling on the Friday or Saturday before the election, and missed the large shift to Reagan that occurred over the last 48 hours.  (And if memory serves, the few polls like Gallup that existed in 1948 stopped polling weeks ahead of the election, because everyone knew Tom Dewey had it in the bag, and as polls were very expensive then, why waste the money.)

With that in mind, let’s visit Sir Winston’s views on opinion polls, from 1953:

We have a deep respect for public opinion but we do not let our course be influenced from day to day by Gallup Polls, favourable though they may be.  It is not a good thing always to be feeling your pulse and taking your temperature; although one has to do it sometimes, you do not want to make a habit of it.  I have heard it said that a Government should keep its ear to the ground, but they should also remember that this is not a very dignified attitude.

On an earlier occasion he put the matter more colorfully:

I see it said that leaders should keep their ears to the ground.  All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.

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