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Daily Archives: April 30, 2007

Polls are great things to give one little lifts… if the polls affirm your opinion. That’s about all they are good for.

In the 50s, I believe, but don’t quote me on the time frame, there was a poll taken among consumers about whether they preferred butter over margarine. The poll indicated that consumers overwhelmingly preferred butter over margarine. However, the researchers took it a step further and conducted a taste test. The results of the taste test were the almost exact opposite of the poll: Consumers preferred the taste of margarine to that of butter. Why? Margarine was what they were used to being an inexpensive replacement for the much more expensive butter.

 Often, polls reflect wishful thinking rather than the practical. They can also be heavily slanted to project what the researcher wants simply by the way the questions are asked.

For all practical purposes, polls are useless when dealing with complex human thought and opinions, yet, the press continues to conduct them. In addition to conducting the polls, they pick and choose what results they wish to display which are typically those that are the most vague in nature, such as presidential job approval. The president’s job encompasses many different tasks. Not only is he dealing with war, but he’s also addressing immigration issues, foreign policy, national security, and a congressional “witch hunt” to name only a few. Any one of those factors could cause someone to view the president negatively depending on what the person’s main concern happens to be. Or it could simply be because he’s not answering back with the same fire he had in his first term. Or it could be none of those things and something else entirely. Oh, and did I mention that most presidents have had the same results over time regardless of party affiliation? Even the much touted Bill Clinton, who in my personal opinion was nothing but a philandering gasbag, who did little to advance this country except leave a mess for the next president to clean up.

We simply cannot infer anything from polls, except as I mentioned in the first paragraph, a temporary boost or affirmation that your opinion means something. Eventually, we have to look at the practical side and what they really mean, which is absolutely nothing. Conversely, there are politicians who make critical decisions based on poll results. Politicians who use polls to determine the course of this country are playing with fire and will eventually get burned. I believe Clinton was one who used polls to determine how he governed. There have been others and quite likely there will be more.  I would point out Congressional members who do the same but considering they pick and choose which polls they follow, it would be a useless endeavor.

Another point about polls is the sampling. Stating that a poll was conducted nationwide doesn’t really say much, either. For instance, there are regional differences in political views. You won’t find the same view in southern states, as you would in northern state, northern states will differ significantly from midwestern states, midwestern states will differ significantly from southwestern states, and so on. Unless all regional differences are taken into account, with similar representative samples from each, the poll is slanted. One of the largest numbers I’ve seen of a poll sample was just over 1400… as representing over 1/4 billion people. When you think in those terms, the sampling isn’t very large and easy to see it is not equally distributed.

There are some statistical formulas that can be ran about the relationship between biased and unbiased press poll results but finding enough unbiased press that conducts polls these days is near impossible. Nor do I have the statistical software to run the formulas. I could do them by hand but that would take longer than I care to spend on the subject.

There is a lot more I can say on this subject but I hope my short lesson helps somewhat.

April 2007


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