"Prodded Animals"

David Runciman on American polling:

...in an election like this one, the polls aren’t there to tell the real story; they are there to support the various different stories that the commentators want to tell. The market is not for the hard truth, because the hard truth this time round is that most people are voting with the predictability of prodded animals. What the news organisations and blogs and roving pundits want are polls that suggest the voters are thinking hard about this election, arguing about it, making up their minds, talking it through, because that’s what all the commentators like to think they are doing themselves. This endless raft of educated opinion needs to be kept afloat on some data indicating that it matters what informed people say about politics, because it helps the voters to decide which way to jump. If you keep the polling sample sizes small enough, you can create the impression of a public willing to be moved by what other people are saying. That’s why the comment industry pays for this rubbish.

He's a little excessive, I think. But close analysis of polls at this stage of the race strike me as ridiculously premature. Until the Clintons leave the stage, we have no inkling of how an Obama-McCain race will feel, how the contrast will affect allegiances, how policy - especially with the complex and shifting landscape of Iraq - will impact the decision. I expect Obama to get a big bump from finally resolving the nomination, but this will fade as well. In late September, we'll get the first real feel from polling about the race. Congressional races are, of course, different. And extremely grim for the decadent Republicans.