Sunday, September 14, 2008

Can We Trust Them?

I remember that during the 2004 presidential election, I became an obsessive poll watcher: there were CNN projections, Zogby predictions, and Fox pronouncements. And for some reason, the polls I paid attention to were all claiming a John Kerry victory! Well, we all know how that turned out...

Now, when the media report that this election contest between John McCain and Barack Obama is going to be very close, I tend to be somewhat dismissive. My own feeling is that the media, which largely functions as a for-profit enterprise, has a vested interest in making us believe, up to the last minute, that we will see a razor-thin victory for one of the candidates. I have my own prediction, which has no basis in any scientific methodology, but as this short report below explains, my prediction might be just as good or better than all of the vaunted polls combined!


David Moore, a former Gallup Poll senior editor, argues in his book, The Opinion Makers, that professional polling data is deeply flawed. For example,
  1. Polls don't reveal opinion differences between those who hold strong opinions and those who are answering off the top of their heads at the moment.
  2. Polls don't include the opinions of people who only use cell phones, rather than a traditional land-line.
What do you think of the criticisms of polls in above radio piece? What are your predictions for the 2008 election? It might be fun for the class to come back to this post in November to see which of our peers predicted correctly!

6 comments:

Max Rice said...

I totally agree that Polling is completely flawed. Pollers can slant questions so they can get the results they need. In alot of poll questions you can spot a bias pretty easily. I do think its almost insane that McCain even has a shot to win. As Michael Moore told Larry King, this election should be the easiest to win for a democrat in the history the U.S. The republican run legislative branch and executive branch, many would agree, did not leave this country so well. Bush has like a 30% approval rating, the economy is doing poorly, and most people are against the war in Iraq. And still Barack Obama is down in the polls. That just shows how weak of canidate he is. This election should be cake for Obama. The democrats should have also won the last two elections pretty easily too, as like this one, they had the advantage early on. I predict that democrats will fail again, and with the arguably evil, but undeniably genius Karl Rove on McCains Campaign, I think for better or for worse, the republicans will come away with the victory.

S. Bolos said...

Max,

I really like your take on this, especially the use of language and how easily that can shape the opinions of the polled person.

Let's see if we can have others weigh in on the language of pollsters and YOUR predictions for the November election!

LukeHG said...

First of all I agree with Max, and Bolos that polling is very flawed. The first word that came to my head after listening to the radio segment was gerrymander. Gerrymander is when voting districts are divided into different to give a political party an unfair advantage. I though of this word because, pollers are doing a similar sort of thing. Like Gerrymanders the pollers are warping the results to get there desired out come. I think more then ever pollers are creating these false results. During this election season more and more young people are taking part in the election. I think that the pollers are not taking the young voters into account and their polls will be very skewed. Only time will tell us the winner of the election. I think Obama will come out head by 5-10%.

Jackie said...

I totally agree with the radio show. It is just too easy to slant a poll to make it sound the way you want it, and then use the poll to get in your candidates head. I think one of the bigger problems also is that some polls only have two possible answers, usually yes or no. The world isn't that black and white and neither is the way we think. Now I do not know who is going to win this election, and who I want to win the election will remain unnamed, but I think no matter what poll you look at, McCain is catching Obama. That is obviously mostly becuase of Sarah Pallin, and because of her McCain is now ahead with women. I think when we get to November 4th, it is going to be extremely close. But if there is anything we've learned from this year of politics, it is that you never know what might happen. Ever!

Kimber said...

The Polls seem to be another political tool. As David Moore points out, pollsters are able to ask questions in such a way as to obtain the answer that they want. They often omit asking people if they are “undecided.” For example, if people asked whether they are voting for Obama or McCain and they get 52% for Obama and 48% for McCain, they have not taken into account those who are really undecided, those who are voting for Nader, or those who are not going to vote at all. Moore also gave the example about asking people about drilling in Alaska. If people were first asked multiple questions on how to obtain new energy sources and then if they approved of drilling, many more said “Yes.” In contrast, if the questions were first about protecting the environment and the drilling, the responders tended to have a higher percentage say “No.” He goes on to make the point (8:20-8:40) that 60% of the public have no idea what’s going on. They need our leaders to educate them. This is a major concern. How do we educate the general public? Not everyone reads the newspaper, listens to the radio, watches CNN, or has the ability to determine the validity of what they hear. The outcome of the election will depend on how well informed the general public is. And there in lies the question. Thus, I predict that Nader will take 4%, McCain 46%, and Obama 50%.

Matt L. said...

I try not even to look at the polls because ABC will come out with one poll saying Obama is up, and CBS will find one saying McCain is up. So, when the news people start talking about it, I just tune it out.