Third Party & Independents Archives

Pollsters: Let the Voters Speak

Is the end of polling at hand? Perhaps not, but polling seems to have entered a slow and steady decline in accuracy and in participation rates. Apparently less than 10% of those who receive a call from some organization doing a poll actually answer the call. And moving from landline and cellphones (where people are even less likely to respond) to online surveys brings up serious credibility problems as to how accurate online polling results are. Pollsters nowadays seem to be frantically adjusting their methodology and hoping to present more accurate polling results - look at the May 7 (or next day the 8th to be more accurate) polling failures in the UK. Should we be worried?

In the first place, it seems media bias is one factor in voter's unwillingness to be polled. Or they are just too busy and don't want to be bothered. If media and even polling organizations tend more left or liberal than any given sample of voters they try to poll, that is also a big problem. A hardly shocking one, seeing media bias has been a hot-button topic for a couple of decades and is front and center in the cultural wars of today. Doug Mataconis in Outside the Beltway wrote about the problem a few years back and in a response to a comment of the "so what if polling is not accurate?" type, he mentioned two main consequences that bothered him: political campaigns and campaign managers would have a harder job trying to adjust to polls; and government departments that use polls or phone surveys for statistics - as in the Unemployment Report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics - would be issuing unreliable statistics. So unemployment stats are an educated guess at best? Stop the presses now! And candidates will have to take their message out on the campaign trail and let voters decide? Sounds suspiciously like democracy! Something better be done about that!

Maybe in our wonky, wired world, the fact that polling accuracy is on sloping gradient that points downwards is not a bad thing or even that good a thing. It means that the only poll that counts is the one voters actually participate in. That means media should stop analyzing why their polling methods were wrong and talk about why the votes landed the way they did. And campaign managers should focus on their candidates message - hopefully one the candidate believes in and is willing to fight for. And let the voters speak.

Posted by AllardK at May 14, 2015 7:55 PM
Comment #395549

Political polls typically poll no more than 2,000 people. The unemployment statistics are based on polls of @ 60,000 people. Big difference.

No one knows yet why the UK polling results were so far off, although it could be the pollsters failed to account for the fact that more and more people are using cells, and not as many use landlines. US pollsters usually account for this. We saw a good example in 2012, when Gallup and Rasmussen did not account for cell phone users in their polls. Their polls kept showing a bias towards the GOP and Romney of @ 3.5%. The other pollsters who accounted for cell phones turned out to be very accurate.

So polling for US political campaigns still tends to be pretty reliable, but it is never, ever a sure thing, and it is never a substitute for the actual vote.

One of my favorite political lines came from a guy named Udall. After he lost his election, he spoke to his supporters and said: “The people have spoken- the bastards!”

Posted by: phx8 at May 15, 2015 5:33 PM
Comment #395553


Actually the line is attributed to Dick Tuck in a 1968 concession speech after he lost his campaign for senate in California.

Look him up, he’s a colorful character, and known for his pranks, particularly on Richard Nixon.

Things were a bit different then.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at May 15, 2015 9:01 PM
Comment #395555

You’re right, Rocky. That was Dick Tuck. I did look him up, and he pulled some pretty funny stunts.

Posted by: phx8 at May 15, 2015 10:38 PM
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