Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Don’t like the latest poll numbers on the presidential race? Just wait. More are coming — probably before you can say “margin of sampling error.”
Regardless of what any given poll says, it’s likely that someone — a campaign, an interest group, a political party or a rival polling operation — will argue that the survey is invalid at the same time someone else argues that it’s significant.
Polls have become political tools and have taken on outsized importance as they’ve become easier and cheaper to conduct.
A part of campaigns grounded in science, polling has lost some of its standing as a neutral record of voters’ attitudes and opinions and, at times, has become just another talking point. TV pundits and election analysts hang on every one-point shift, to heck with the margin of error.
Another twist this year: A pollster’s usually difficult task of reaching a representative pool of likely voters has become far more difficult in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy’s march through the East Coast with just days to go before the election.
130 POLLS IN 57 DAYS
As long as there’s been polling, campaigns have released polls favorable to their cause, and independent pollsters have tried to capture the state of the race minus the internal campaign baggage. But now, with an array of options to conduct polling on the cheap, polls are far more frequent, more visible and more often used as campaign tools. In the 57 days since Labor Day, The Huffington Post’s Pollster blog shows 130 national polls have been conducted on the presidential horserace.
Not all of them are created equal.
As the minimum cost of conducting a poll has fallen from something like the sticker price of a Lexus to the cost of a 1998 Honda Civic, the simple dividing line of partisan-or-not has been complicated by questions of basic methodology. But as in car shopping, you get what you pay for.
A poll using more rigorous methodology — in which live callers dial a random sample of landline telephones and cellphones over the course of several nights, making multiple attempts at different times to reach a respondent before giving up and attempting to choose a random respondent within each household — can cost well over $50,000. Automated polls — using recorded voice interviewers, only dialing landlines, taking whoever answers the phone and only on one night — can cost as little as $2,000.
Those more expensive polls cost so much more because they adhere to survey research rule No. 1: Every person should have a known, non-zero chance of being included in a survey’s sample. If you only dial landlines, the cellphone-only voters have zero chance of being included. Likewise, if you only dial on Wednesday night, anyone who isn’t home that night is automatically excluded from the sample and the pollster has no way of knowing who those people are.
Much of the proliferation of polling in the last few years has come from the cheaper end of the scale, with automated pollsters dominating popular poll aggregations. Polls conducted using automated methodology do not meet the standards for coverage of The Associated Press, nor do partisan polls.
MIND THE GAP
For the public, this has meant new polling almost daily, some of it conflicting. And as pundits and prognosticators seek to explain the differences between polls, more are focused on pollsters with a finger on the scale rather than on the random variation that pollsters expect.
This campaign season has produced a string of polling-related controversies over such issues as weighting surveys by party identification, sampling likely vs. registered voters, how pollsters measure race and ethnicity, and whether public pollsters were using their polls to change the narrative of a particular race.
As these controversies rage, the standard caveats about a poll’s margin of sampling error seem to have gone out the window. Polling analysts and aggregators put every 1- or 2-point shift under a microscope, even though almost no poll is accurate enough to detect changes that small with any certainty.
Whether valid or not, criticisms that suggest pollsters are fixing the data to get a desired result have done a number on polling’s reputation. By the end of the 2008 contest, almost 4 in 10 voters told Fox News pollsters they thought media pollsters were fixing their numbers for Obama, and the public’s take on polls became as partisan as any other part of the campaign.
At the end of recent presidential campaigns, the Pew Research Center has asked voters to give pollsters a letter grade for their performance. In 2008, 64 percent of Democrats gave pollsters an A or B for their performance in the campaign, while just 37 percent of Republicans felt the same, a 27-point gap. Four years earlier, the partisan gap was 11 points, and in 2000, a slim 7 points separated partisans.
READING THE FINAL POLLS
In the final days of the campaign, the polls will continue, with most major pollsters releasing their final estimate of the presidential horserace just before Election Day and prognosticators massaging them into their final projections. Typically, these last-chance estimates have converged as voters solidified their choices, but the massive storm that swept through the East Coast could complicate the picture for pollsters.
With millions of East Coast voters without power, voters in hard-hit states will be difficult to reach. And many “likely voters” could wind up not voting at all as they deal with the aftermath of the storm. Pollsters aiming to produce a final portrait of the race will have a hard time knowing for sure how big an impact the storm has had on the election forecast.
Before the storm, however, this year’s crop of polls had largely been in agreement that the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama was very close. Take the final round of public polling with a grain of salt and a pound of margin of error, and remember that polls are really just a snapshot in time.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Jennifer Agiesta oversees polling operations for The Associated Press.
Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/JennAgiesta
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.