Though it happened over a week ago, Mitt Romney is still enjoying his bounce in the polls from his first debate with Barack Obama. According to Real Clear Politics, most polls show Romney ahead nationally by at least one point, though in the ever-important Electoral College projections he still trails Obama by quite a bit. While polls are not always accurate, the focus on them by the public is helping lead to a sportification of politics that makes bipartisan solutions unlikely. America works best when we work together and politics is not a zero-sum game, so a focus on beating your opponent's numbers is a distraction from finding workable ideas.
Polls are good and necessary for politicians and their teams. While some particular polls can be huge outliers, an average of national polls can be very telling, as can be a combination of polls inside of a particular state. Polls help the campaigners know where to allocate resources and direct their attention. But what exactly is the purpose polls serve for the general population?
I argue that there is no point for polls in the general population, and that they in fact do a disservice to politics when they are focused upon by the public. Polls make elections seem like a game. and the numbers themselves are like the latest score. To trivialize politics as a game is a disservice to politics and also the people because politics is supposed to serve the people. Politics is not a zero-sum game like sports, where you either win or lose. If your team loses a game then that's it the game is over and you lost. Finding solutions to national problems doesn't work that way.
If your candidate or party loses an election you can still “win” by making deals and working with the opposition to move forward in a way that will benefit yourself and the population as a whole. Ninety-nine percent of politics is about compromising. However, a focus on polls means a constant focus on the next election. Instead of constituents pressuring their representatives to push forward initiatives that will help us, we pressure our representatives to increase their polling numbers (or decrease their opponents') so as to secure our party's win in the next election. We are goaded into believing that we will only benefit if our party controls all the branches. It is no wonder that with such a zero-sum mentality the Republicans' main goal was to make Barack Obama a one term president, and not to pull America out of a recession.
That is the real issue with the sportification of politics. We look at the latest polls like they are the latest scores. We root for our candidates like they're our favorite teams. We think that we win, when they win. But really we can only win as a whole. Compromise is at the heart of democracy, but compromising doesn't happen in sports.