Why I take online polls seriously

I should begin with a disclaimer. It’s not that I take all online polls seriously. Only the ones that might have an effect on my future.

Four years ago, The Atlantic launched a Twitter-based book club, #1book140, to get people from all around the world talking and debating. Each month, readers are given a genre and a selection of books to mull over. Readers vote for their choice and the winning book is announced. The world reads and a conversation on Twitter ensues.

Last week, The Atlantic ran a poll for the month of March’s non-fiction book choice. Fifteen books were lined up. Nearly 2,800 votes were cast. “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,” by Ali Abunimah, won with a 58.97% majority.

The link to the poll went viral, which could explain the final vote tally. January’s 1book140 poll ended with a total of 51 votes. February’s closed with 47. Ali’s book alone earned 1,631.

There was a moment during the week of open polling when I felt as though something as weighty as a Senate seat was on the line. There were no ads or commercials or signs dotting my neighbor’s front yard, but the vigorous push for votes was still there. I received messages reminding me to vote. Friends updated me on the latest vote counts. I found myself checking the page until the closing hours.

I will admit there is something strange about validating one’s identity through an online poll. But it is something I and countless other Palestinians do.

Maybe it is because it helps us feel somewhat useful. When a military occupation of your land rages on for decades and your elderly family members pass away before seeing their dreams of a free motherland come to reality, you begin to feel powerless. Any opportunity to build awareness, regardless of how inconsequential, is an opportunity we do not take for granted.

Maybe it is because it is self-medicating. There are people in this world who refuse to utter the P word, as though Palestinians will all just disappear if he or she wills them to. This reminds me of the time a student in college told me that Palestine could not possibly exist (and that Israel has a right to the land) because of the absence of the letter P in the Arabic language. As unlikely as it is that this student will ever stumble upon these poll results, I imagine him fumbling to tell me why Ali’s book cannot possibly exist. (“If the author doesn’t exist, how can the book exist?”) I find satisfaction in knowing that my vote, as insignificant as it might be, is significant enough to ruin an ignorant person’s mood.

Maybe there is an ever deeper reason. Or maybe there is no reason at all. Still, I take the polls. I take them seriously. We remind our friends to vote. We campaign for your vote, win the vote, and place it under our belt. Then we hopelessly wonder how many small wins it will take to equal a bigger, more meaningful win. Symbolism does not work like that. We know. But we take the next online poll seriously anyway. You never know.

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