In recent days I’ve chatted with several theory-oriented colleagues (two in English, one in poli sci) about the polling sites. Typically the question is which of the aggregator sites I prefer: Pollster, 538, or Real Clear Politics. (For the record, I typically watch Pollster most carefully.)
What I find interesting is that these colleagues–and, by the way, I, too–buy the critique of public opinion research launched by, e.g., Adorno, Horkheimer, Pollock, Bourdieu, Habermas, etc., that holds polls to be, at best, productive fictions. The performativity claim can get us only so far–but the ontological status of the opinions being “measured” here is hardly clear, and is never addressed by any of the polling sites.
My question, then, is not just why they’re (we’re!) paying attention to the polls. The question is why they/we seem to be doing so in such a rapt fashion, following every known-to-be-meaningless percentage point change with such fascination, even morbid curiosity. This strikes me as an almost Lacanian quest for the true public as an objet petit a–an unattainable object of desire, fetishized and packed into an object of worship, a totem, in the moving polling average.