The impact of polls and polling on our political process continues to be one of the unexplored stories of the 2008 race.
Take the remarkable gap -- chasm, really -- between the widening lead national polls continue to anoint Hillary Clinton with and the current dead heat in Iowa and New Hampshire.
It's enough to leave one wondering: are polls measuring the 2008 election or are they driving it?
But it's a question traditional media outlets steadfastly refuse to investigate - perhaps they've grown too accustomed to the ease of offering up the latest "who's leading the horserace?" story. Indeed, quoting polling data as news has become synonymous with reporting at many news organizations.
So HuffPost's OffTheBus team has decided to turn the tables by launching a wide-ranging effort to scrutinize an industry devoted to scrutinizing us. We're calling this survey of the pervasiveness and impact of polling "The Polling Project." And we'll need your help (more on this in a bit).
Our aim is simple: to get a better understanding of how polling is being used across the country. We want to get to the bottom of how pollsters conduct their surveys, how they gather and build their stats, how they target who they contact, and, ultimately, how they reach their conclusions -- conclusions that often fuel the very races they are supposed to be analyzing.
We are launching this non-partisan effort to examine the polling industry with a wide variety of co-sponsors reaching across the political spectrum, including: Talking Points Memo, Instapundit, Politico, The Center for Independent Media, The Nation, Pajamas Media, Mother Jones, WNYC Radio, My Silver State, and Personal Democracy Forum.
Our methods are simple and direct, and stress transparency - the key ingredient missing from a lot of polling data. With the help of our co-sponsors we are looking to ask as many people as we can reach to share their polling experiences via this form, telling us exactly how they have been polled. Who called them? At what time? Did they agree to participate in the poll or refuse to (one of the least transparent aspects of polling continues to be the refusal of most polling companies to release response rates, which have plummeted in recent years to around 30 percent)? What questions were they asked? Did the questions seem fair or were they worded in a way that seemed loaded? Did they feel like they were being targeted because of their age, gender, or ethnicity? Did the pollster seem to be guiding them toward a predetermined answer?
We'll also want to know: How do the questions being asked of voters in Iowa differ from those in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina? Are African-Americans and Latinos being asked different questions than white voters? How about women?
As the responses come in, we will compile and analyze the data, looking for patterns and trends. We think the result will be a clearer picture of the different kinds of polls specific groups, campaigns, and media organizations are conducting, and a greater understanding of how and why they are being used.
For too long, the polling industry has had the luxury of operating largely under-the-radar. The Polling Project aims to move polling from under-the-radar to under the microscope.
But for this to happen, we need as many people to take part as possible. So if a pollster has recently contacted you, please fill out the form. And forward the form or this post to as many people as you can. The more people we can gather information from, the more complete will be our understanding of this vital aspect of our political culture.
Even if you haven't been contacted by a pollster yet, keep the Polling Project form handy. We intend this to be an ongoing project, leading up to the Iowa caucuses and the primary in New Hampshire, and beyond.
Today's politicians have become pathologically addicted to the short-term buzz of a bump in the polls. And the media are equally obsessed. This creates a vicious cycle: Polls are taken, the results are offered up as news, news that is then brandished by campaigns and fundraisers to convince donors that trailing candidates are DOA. This leads to more money and more endorsements, fewer resources left over for rival candidates, more positive results from the pollsters, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Here's your chance to add some light to all the poll-generated heat. Fill out the form -- and send it to friends.
And we promise the Polling Project will never call you during dinner, or ask if you'd be more or less likely to take part if you knew we'd converted to Mormonism or adopted a brown baby.