DOES today's widespread election polling disserve the public and the candidates? Not really. Some surveys may be flawed in their sampling and order of questions. But in major races like the presidency, many surveys are available and a fair idea of opinion can be tracked by looking at a bundle of evidence.
The problem lies more in the over-interpretation of results, and in the manipulative nature of today's campaigning, which screens candidates from direct contact with the public.
Many voters think that surveys, if perceived as forecasting election outcomes instead of sampling views at a moment in time, can be self-fulfilling, robbing the electorate of a meaningful vote.
The voter should never concede on the value of his ballot. Elections are public business meetings. Each voter is a shareholder. In a democracy, one person's vote counts as much as another's.
Public surveys are not elections. Pundits who talk about elections, reporters like Sam Donaldson and David Broder, our MacNeil-Lehrer friends Gergen and Shields, editorial page writers - none of what they say substitutes for voting. A pundit's vote counts no more than yours.
If the media-centered story of the election gets confused with the real thing, we have chiefly ourselves to blame.
Now, Michael Dukakis complains that George Bush's lead in the polls makes it hard for the Democrat's campaign to get its spirits up. If Mr. Bush were suffering Mr. Dukakis's fate, would Dukakis fret?
Not everyone is turned off by election '88. Voter registration in states like California and Minnesota is running high. Public forums are rare. But those that are held - like one at the Kennedy Library in Boston this week, with representatives from the Bush and Dukakis camps arguing national security - are jammed with citizens aburst with questions.
Each voter has his own election to decide. Don't give up on yours.