In this image taken from video from the Office of the N.Y. Governor, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. Besieged by sexual harassment allegations, a somber Cuomo apologized Wednesday, saying he "learned an important lesson" about his own behavior around women, but he said he intended to remain in office. Credit: Office of the NY Governor via AP

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“Polls show.”

When you see a headline or article with that infamous phrase — particularly if it is being used as an argument for (or against) some intricate, complex policy issue — then just stop.

“Polls show” seems to be the cudgel that Democrats are using to wallop Republicans into supporting President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus legislation. “Polls show” 76 percent of voters support the bill, including 60 percent of Republicans.

Claiming something is right because it is popular is a logical error known as the “bandwagon” fallacy. And simply because “polls show” something does not mean the answer is correct.

Go back 10 months in your time machine. “Polls showed” that Andrew Cuomo was, quite possibly, the most popular politician in America. That was predicated in no small part on perceptions of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fast forward to now. Cuomo is facing a federal investigation by the Biden Administration into apparent falsification of fatality numbers, to say nothing of burgeoning sexual harassment allegations. The Associated Press reports that thousands of coronavirus patients were allowed into nursing homes under controversial policy directives from Cuomo.

“Polls showed” that Cuomo was doing a great job handling the coronavirus pandemic. And the polls were wrong.

That isn’t a critique of the men and women who were polled. Some news media gave Cuomo fawning coverage, despite others — including the Columbia Journalism Review — counseling caution. Based on the information those polled had at the time, they made a judgment call.

Cuomo = good.

Yet, like most things in life, when you do not have all the information, you can make bad decisions. With more information about Cuomo’s COVID response, polls are now changing.

There is a degree of realpolitik when advocates attempt to pressure politicians with “polls show.” After all, officials hold their position due to the results of official polls held on Election Day. If those in Congress want to keep their job, they will need enough votes cast in their favor — at the polls.

But the not-so-secret secret is that polls say a lot of different things depending on how the questions are asked. And what those polled say they want and what they actually want can be two different things.

Henry Ford’s apocryphal quote rings true here. If Ford had surveyed the market when he started his company, polls would have shown that his would-be customers wanted faster horses. But, as the story goes, that was not what they really wanted. Instead, they desired a faster, more reliable means of transportation. Ford delivered.

That is the real lesson leaders in Washington should take away, rather than slavishly flocking to whatever “polls show.”

Even engaged voters — and marginally informed columnists — do not have all the information available on any given policy question. The population writ large has even less. Understandably so. “Rational ignorance” is logical; we all have day jobs, and families, and communities, and recreation, and countless other things which take up our time.

We can opine and gripe and suggest and respond to polls. Officials entrusted with governance should take those things into account. But they are the ones best positioned to weigh out thousands of competing priorities, principles, challenges, and solutions to try and reach the best possible answer. Like a car instead of a faster horse.

And that is exactly what they should do when it comes to Biden’s $1.9 trillion spending package. It seems Rep. Jared Golden did just that by voting against it, despite slings and arrows directed at him from his erstwhile political allies.

Just because “polls show” something doesn’t mean it is right. And what might be popular in polls today could be unpopular tomorrow.

Don’t believe me? Ask Andrew Cuomo.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.

Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.