Are Polls Ruining Democracy? – The New Yorker

“A “poll” used to mean the top of your head. Ophelia says of Polonius, “His beard as white as snow: All flaxen was his poll.” When voting involved assembling (all in favor of Smith stand here, all in favor of Jones over there), counting votes required counting heads; that is, counting polls. Eventually, a “poll” came to mean the count itself. By the nineteenth century, to vote was to go “to the polls,” where, more and more, voting was done on paper. Ballots were often printed in newspapers: you’d cut one out and bring it with you. With the turn to the secret ballot, beginning in the eighteen-eighties, the government began supplying the ballots, but newspapers kept printing them; they’d use them to conduct their own polls, called “straw polls.” Before the election, you’d cut out your ballot and mail it to the newspaper, which would make a prediction. Political parties conducted straw polls, too. That’s one of the ways the political machine works”