Not being a US citizen, I'm always quite stunned by what I perceive as an obsession with polling results. Especially when fundamental flaws in the US voting system (see, for example, http://www.gregpalast.com/latinos-too-lazy-to-vote/) seem to get widely ignored.
Sites like http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/ may be great in bringing insightful reflections on statistics to a larger audience, but by focusing exclusively on the maths of elections, they might actually reinforce this ignorance towards actual political issues.
Still, its main concern seems to be the predictive value of forecast models, given that "stuff happens" -- while I'm more concerned with the fact that the obsession with polling and forecasts coincides (hard to tell if it's a cause or an effect) with widespread ignorance when it comes to massively undemocratic features of the US voting system.
What is your thesis, exactly? People have a finite amount of attention they are willing to devote to politics, and the obsession with polling thus excludes them from paying attention to these supposedly undemocratic features?
Seems far fetched to me but I'd imagine it's testable. One could test people about their knowledge of poll data and then see whether a higher degree of interest in polls correlated with a lower awareness of these undemocratic feature. I would imagine you'd find your thesis refuted in such a test.
Anyhow, it's likely you're trying to convey something that I'm not quite understanding so please feel free to correct me.
Speaking personally, I would posit that the media puts more focus on polls because they are both interesting and timely to viewers, where as discussions about the flaws of first-past-the-post voting are more dry and are not timely -- timeliness being a crucial determiner of what gets reported as news. So unless there are newsmakers actively making a spectacle about the issue, you're not going to here about it in mainstream media.
If you're asking me for a thesis, then I guess it would include the idea that what people should be willing to devote to politics is more than, and fundamentally different from, attention. Once politics become politics of attention, they become, quite precisely, the spectacle you're referring to: a real-time feed of gossip, gaffes and stats.
More specifically though, my impression was, quite simply, that obsession with details, as a mainstream phenomenon, often coincides with the inability or unwillingness to see the bigger picture. While I can't back this up with statistical data, I'm pretty sure there's a well-founded psychological term for it.
Here's a hypothesis for you: it's easier to follow the polls than it is to follow the issues, and when polling soundbites are ubiquitous, people will tend to follow the polls instead of following the issues.
You can spend an hour watching a presidential debate (plus additional hours looking up the various claims made), or you can spend a minute reading the heading, deck and first paragraph of an article that says this or that candidate "won" the debate.
Polls function as a kind of supernormal stimulus  that displace real analysis, in a manner analogous to the way that junk food, which distils fat, sugar and salt to their essence, displaces whole foods.
Let me flip this backwards: Why wouldn't polls get a lot of attention? People want to know who will win the election in advance, just like they like spoilers. Polls are a fact-based way to report on it.
I think other countries don't focus on polls much simply because in a parliamentary system, it's very hard to poll. It would be like trying to poll the US House races, which no one really does.
Yikes. Exactly what we need; more people focused on polls that all say the same thing--the election is close. Knowing that Gallup says it's 51-49 one way or Rasmussen says it's 51-49 the other way contributes exactly nothing to the world.
Developer here. I helped build this site after noticing I was checking presidential polls like 12 times a day and really wanted a quick disposable tool for the next 2 weeks to get them as soon as they are released.
On Nov 6th, we'll shut the site down and permanently delete the entire list.
Here's a slightly OT question, for politically inclined folks:
How likely would you be to look at a site that on election day scrapes election results as they come in from various swing states, and extrapolates the state result by projecting each county individually from already reported precincts?
Obvious some assumptions about precinct homogeneity and turnout implicit in that, but it'd provide at least some value over the raw results ("OMG with 5% of the vote in, Obama's leading by 20 points in Ohio!")
I'm almost enough of a political nerd and devloper nerd to try this, but I think the hardest part would be the scraping... Since the news sites have probably changed their formatting since the last election, it would be hard to test the results until they start displaying. If it take an hour to get all the bugs worked out in the scraper, well by then, the scraping might be usless. Maybe there's some kind of centralized API for accessing raw election results, though.
I'll bet you could get each state's official SOS results relatively easily. However, "calling" the election depends on more than just the official SOS reports. CNN will call things when their exit polls show one thing and then the early rounds of official results confirm them.
I considered building such a site about a couple of months ago, the problem is getting the streaming results. From my research there is no public api that allows you access to results in real time at the level of granularity you would need (atleast county level). I suppose you could scrape the data off from the sites of the networks but you don't know how that's going to be formatted until election day at which point it's too late.
FiveThirtyEight definitely doesn't do this, or hasn't in the past, it least. It models via demographics and polling, while this would be a much simpler model basing its predictions on already reported results.
Living in an "important swing state" at the moment, the last thing I need is more factoids about the presidential race. Every form of media is completely saturated with the same talking points, and it is quite exhausting. It would be nice to hear more about the senate, house and state elections.
I don't think I've seen any media coverage/ads for any election besides the presidential race.
Really? I might not be in an "important swing state" but when my wife doesn't fast forward through them on the DVR I see plenty of local/state/and congressional commercials. Unless in your state the presidential campaigns are buying up ALL of the available airtime.
Edit: what about outside of prime time. Say during your local 5 o'clock news?
We used all of these: Rasmussen Reports, ABC News/Washington Post, Investors Business Daily/TIPP, Gallup, Monmouth/SurveyUSA/Braun, CBS News, NBC News/Wall St. Journal, Washington Times: JZ Analytics, Politico/GWU/Battleground.
Yep, just the main national tracking polls. We email every one out so at the state level it might get overwhelming. And we can't really put too much into a filtering setup since it's a product that'll autodeadpool in 2 weeks :)