Unskewed Polls

Polls are advertising.  I have always wondered if it was possible to read polls and come to a reasonable conclusion about a matter.  You would think that in math, there’s right and wrong and that’s it; every math class I ever took had it that way.  But, then, I (as many others) recognized that in a survey (i.e., “poll”), you can ask a certain question or a question in a certain way or both of the above to a certain audience and get wildly different conclusions. And, since most thinking people recognize this, I really wonder what is the value of polls?  (Back to that in a minute.)

So, polls are now advertising.  A stated poll-result is now used to advertise for or against a candidate.  It isn’t that the data urges a conclusion one way or another; it is that the poll itself cannot but urge that simply because of the organization, the questions, the question order or the sampling.  Maybe they always were like this, but certainly now, you have to know the background of each polling organization in order to put their poll in context!  What a waste; that makes me chapped.

How can we not conclude that they have become like all the rest of the news media: slanted, used and mostly untrustworthy?  Here’s a website I just found:  www.unskewedpolls.com.  I don’t know what to believe about that website.  If you look at the ads and links and things it looks “right-leaning.”  It has the appearance of a DrudgeReport for polling, maybe?  Perhaps it actually samples polls from all over the spectrum and gives them equal time.

But why have polls lost their potential value and become just another place for candidates to advertise themselves?  The market.  That’s right: you and me.  You have to wonder why so many people and organizations are cranking out these skewed and mostly worthless polls day after day?  Well, it would be for their own commercial gain, no doubt.  And how does that come about?  You and I follow the link to the poll to gawk at what we want to see: Romney: UP!  Obama: UP!  Blah, blah, blah.  We seem to provide slanted pollsters the opportunity to peddle their wares.

I wish as a people all were more willing to get just the facts.

What’s the deal with polls, anyway?

A new poll is out today – found it on Drudge: Obama – 45%, McCain – 44%. (Check it out: Gallup daily poll.) This is part of an inane daily presidential tracking poll. There is a cultural fascination with things like this. I’ve actually been interviewed by Gallup but not for this poll. If you read the Gallup poll you’ll see that this is considered a “statistical tie” and that means who’s reportedly on top doesn’t actually matter – it’s too close to tell. But the graphic on that site indicates its been like this for a while. The “so-what” factor has kicked in for me.

Is the fascination with polls driven by us – the “poll-ee’s” or by the pollers? Do we love to see whether our beliefs are out of whack with everyone else? Or do the pollers just like to feel on top? There’s probably a dozen reasons in either direction.

What if my beliefs were out of whack with everyone else’s? On a national election, I think it may not be so significant; I really don’t have to tell anybody anything. But, surely what you believe differs from your neighbor or co-worker, friend or even spouse on some issue. Then what? Do you act as the “neighborhood George Gallup” and poll your buddies and then change what you believe? Why would you do that?

There’s a fear of conviction in our culture. People are afraid to believe in something and you can tell whether you’re afraid by how many (or how few) people actually know what you believe. There’s a fear of people in our culture.

Well, that’s not really accurate. If I steal $50 from you, you will have no issues with conviction then. If I build a fence in your back yard, your words will come. If I t-bone you on the highway and then drive away screaming obscenities at you, then, well, that’s easy.

What about if I suggested that you should give money to a church instead of buy a new car? Or, write an editorial about rampant inner city crime? Or picket an abortion clinic? Then what? You may just waffle. You may cave to peer pressure.

Are we only willing to hold to principles when they’re “safe” according to our culture? Popularity is a big deal in your life. The problem is that many times what is right is not popular. If our commitment is to be mainstream (whatever that means) then we will waste our lives.