Politics &Society, Ahead of Print.
Polling the public is commonly assumed to be a democratic practice—a scientifically based proxy for instantaneous elections to enhance the marketplace of ideas and inform elite political actors. This normative underpinning of polling is rarely scrutinized. This article interrogates this “black box” of democracy by examining political polling in a recently democratized context: South Korea. Drawing on twenty-three in-depth elite interviews of pollsters, journalists, campaign experts, and academics, we find that polling is not merely a technique to measure the public's political views, nor is it straightforwardly a democratic practice. Rather, polling is an independent field with its own distinctive norms, hierarchy, and logic of operation. While the Korean polling experts we interviewed endeavor to make moral meaning out of their enterprise and adhere to the view that polling, properly conducted, is democracy-enhancing, they also reveal moments of questionable reliance on polling as a proxy for politics, endemic challenges to the quality of poll data, and the vulnerability of polling technology to error and manipulation. By juxtaposing normative assumptions alongside an empirical, everyday account of polling in practice, we tell a critical and cautionary tale of the technical apparatuses that connect representatives to their constituencies.