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« But They Have Such Spiffy Uniforms | Main | Making It Worse »

Misleading Polls

I always get irritated when I see opinion polls, particularly on elections. One of the most misleading questions, in my opinion, is the one on "right track, wrong track" or "presidential approval." There is always a presumption, that I don't think is necessarily valid, that this translates automatically into prospects for the reelection of the incumbent. This is probably because the people who do the polls tend to think that voters are really as binary as the myth of the two-party system would indicate.

Perhaps I'm atypical, but you would not be able to figure out how I was going to vote on the basis of my answers to those questions.

I think that the country is on the wrong track, and has been so for decades. I disapprove of the president's performance in many areas. If you asked me those questions, I'd answer, "wrong track" and "disapprove."

Does that mean that I'm going to vote for John Kerry in November? Many would infer that, but there's no logical reason to do so. Almost all of the issues on which I think that we're on the "wrong track," and of which I disapprove of the administration policy, would be vastly worse in a Democrat administration.

The polls don't seem to take into account the fact that many (or at least some) voters will be holding their nose in the booth and voting for the lesser of two evils, as the result of the evil of two lessers, which renders those poll questions, if not meaningless, extremely misleading.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 25, 2004 04:16 PM
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There was a discussion of this on NPR recently. It turns out that a pollster back in the 70s-80s introduced a 'mushiness' factor to the poll results, in order to better characterize the mood of the electorate and how changeable the result could be.

While giving better results, this type of poll result slid less easily into narrative and was less "black and white" when used in news stories.

So, what I took away from that debate was that the media aren't interested in characterizing the electorate, rather they are interested in making oversimplified stories because they sell better.

I think we should look to other types of organization for enlightenment about how people might vote - the answer just won't fit on a bumper sticker.

Posted by Kevin Parkin at March 25, 2004 05:20 PM

Actually, I'd state it slightly differently. The media want mushy, near-meaningless polls, so they have far more latitude to spin the results according to whatever is going to sell better or better reflect the particular bias of the owner or editor.

Note the corollary... journalistic integrity is now almost a myth (or worse, an oxymoron). Thus goeth our vaunted Fourth Estate. Wonder if the Founding Fathers ever thought of "The truth is whatever we determine will sell best" when they established freedom of the press.

- Eric.

Posted by Eric S. at March 25, 2004 05:49 PM

The poll outcome usually depend upon who is paying the pollsters and what the desired outcomes should be.

Posted by IXLNXS at March 25, 2004 09:22 PM

Wonder if the Founding Fathers ever thought of "The truth is whatever we determine will sell best" when they established freedom of the press.

- Eric.

If you have read about the press during the time of our foundning fathers, you know that they used the "press" as blatantly, if not more so, than happens today.

Posted by Ken A. at March 26, 2004 11:50 AM

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