A year later, the poll’s fate remains a source of bitter contention, even as Kenya has moved to remake its electoral system. The failure to disclose it was raised at a Senate hearing in Washington last year and has been denounced by human rights advocates, who said it might have saved lives by nudging Mr. Kibaki to accept a negotiated settlement more quickly.
Polls play an important role. They give us a snapshot of public opinion outside what the pundits and politicians say (or wish) public opinion to be. Sometimes we don't like the results, but the things are uncanny in their accuracy -- if done well, by a pro.
When people argue about polls, it's usually because they don't like the results.
The federal government is probably the single largest polling operation, though most of it is non-political, such as the Census Bureau or other agencies measuring confidence in the economy and a million other topics, large and small. And even spooks do polling, though you don't hear anything about it. No doubt some NSA/CIA spook is reading this right now. Those polls are done to judge what people in another country think and to consider ways to shift opinion.