13 January 2008

The Marist Institute

Amongst prominent pollsters discussed in news accounts during election years, there is always the name of Lee Miringoff, identified as the founder of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, at Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, New York.

I have done a certain amount of bragging over Miringoff's increasing prominence in recent years, because I was there at the founding. The "Institute" had its origin in 1978, which of course wasn't a presidential election year, it was the mid-term election of the Carter administration. The polling was an extra-credit project for a few of us under L.M.'s direction that fall.

So I've also experienced chagrin this week as the Marist Institute has come under a rather harsher spotlight than usual. Along with every other polling operation, Marist had Obama leading Clinton quite comfortably as New Hampshire Democrats headed for the polls Tuesday morning.

The combined wire services story that came out of that debacle and that ran in my local paper had a headline quite on point: "Big Loser in N.H. Race: The Pollsters."

But pollsters are human, and like all humans, can use a periodic lesson in humility. Consider (since this is Sunday) the wedding feast that Jesus describes according to Luke, chapter fourteen. Its a lot better to place yourself with due modesty at the bottom of the table than to place yourself at the front.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.