AMERICANS SEEM TO like graphs. We want to know who's bar is the longest on the histogram or who has the largest slice of the pie chart. Some people are critical of this "horse race" approach to campaign coverage, but almost every major news outlet and political research group conducts polls.

For all the hype over new poll numbers or what poll numbers mean to a specific candidate, they don't always do a very good job predicting the outcome of a race and sometimes they can't tell us anything at all.

For example, this Jan. 12 poll10 featured on CNN shows Howard Dean and Wesley Clark leading the Democratic candidates, and the latest Fox News poll11 from Mar. 25 shows Bush and Kerry at a tie.

Polls may not always accurately predict the outcome of a race, but they are important to a candidate striving to look like he's "the best."