The Problem With Polls – The Media Obsession

The latest news stories being generated for mostly cable news consumption is that two different polls show that 1/4 and 1/5 of “the public” believe that President Obama is a Muslim. I’ve seen it all over the blogs and cable news and I’m sure it made it on network news too, although I didn’t catch any of them. I have this issue with public opinion polls in that they really don’t tell you much of anything about what people are really thinking. A few issues with poll results…

  • Most people don’t pay attention to politics, news or inside Washington “conventional wisdom”.
  • Polls of 700 people or so have a margin of error of +/- 3.5%, which is a 7% swing.
  • People lie to pollsters frequently, sometimes to tell them what they think they want to hear and other times because they dislike someone, they just answer every question negatively. Think the Muslim question, don’t you think people who dislike the president are more likely to say he is a Muslim whether they really believe it or not. They just want to get a jab in on him.
  • Proof that people don’t really pay much attention is the fact that polls can swing wildly depending on what the current outrage is.
  • The economy has a huge impact on how people feel about many issues. It’s the economy, stupid. It doesn’t matter who is president, if the economy is in rough shape, the president will be blamed. Fairly or unfairly.
  • The order of questions or the tone of a poll can have a big impact on results, pollsters know this but still like to do it.
  • Polls have a “push” effect by bringing ideas to the attention of the participant as the question is being asked, they are put on the spot to give an opinion whether they’ve actually thought about it or not….and depending on the tone of the poll, they will resort to trying to answer “correctly”.
  • The “bandwagon” effect is alive and well, Republicans try to use it incessantly, but it only has so much effect. Every little bit helps when you are trying to spin.
  • Emotions are easily evoked by wording of questions and topical questions, example immediately after 9/11 George W. Bush received unprecedented numbers that were based on emotions and patriotism. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it becomes bad when the spinners interpret it for us.
  • Election polls become reliable the closer you get to the election, the vast majority of people are not political junkies like you and I and make up their minds at the last minute. It’s still the economy, stupid.

So even though these polls reveal that there are a lot of ignorant people and people who are just plain in denial about a lot of things, I really don’t think those numbers are very accurate. And I would add that ignorant people who may answer a poll question because it is easy, will not drag their lazy, stupid asses to the polls to vote. That would take some effort and they have better things to do than register to vote and then actually go to the poll and stand in line. So why do we give a shit what these ignorant people think anyway? The media has become incapable of actually seeking out a story and writing about it, they just have to wait for Pew to send them the latest poll results and they can just regurgitate the numbers and put their slant on them. Edward R. Murrow has probably rolled over so many times in his grave that he’s several miles away from where he was buried.


And another thing….

The way the media often interprets polls shows their utter stupidity, but it’s a group think thing, so you can’t necessarily blame any individual for it. They act as if “the American people” change their minds from one day to the next in wild swings. Does anyone with a brain really think that one day someone hates President Obama and the next day they love him? And simply saying “the American people” believe this or that based on a given percentage of people sampled in a poll of 700 – 1000 people who picked up their land line phones and were in the mood to answer questions from a computer or a snotty minimum wage college kid? To make blanket statements like “the American people are against this or that” based on a poll is really taking a giant leap. Like I said in the above post, the vast majority of people don’t pay attention to the media, remember the media is ranked down their with child molesters…below politicians. Maybe that is why the media just loves taking down a politician, it’s a jealousy thing.

On President Obama’s poll numbers, I’m not concerned at all about them. I don’t think the White House is either, since I truly believe that Barack Obama came to Washington to get shit done, not get reelected. That’s why the media can’t quite deal with this administration, they are obsessed with the perennial elections that flow from one to the other and when someone does something that might have a political downside, it does not compute with them. I guess that is one of the main reasons why I like President Obama, he really is in politics to make a difference, not to cash in.


5 thoughts on “The Problem With Polls – The Media Obsession

  1. Polls are only bad if the results differ with your thinking. I have always been amazed how accurate polls are. In the last election they had Obama winning by almost double digits, turned out much less than that but he did win.

    In the last presidential election I couldn’t accept the polls. There just can’t be that many uninformed people who would vote for someone with a year in Congress, no verifiable history and a checkered past. What I didn’t count on was he has very good handlers and the MSM gave him millions in free campaign time and anointed him to sainthood, also there was that thing about no one liking Bush.

    Never doubt the stupidity of the American voter, just look at 2009.

  2. Do you really believe in the infallibility of polls, Ralph? Or are you saying that just be be a Republican, have to maintain your street cred, eh? When President Obama was at 70% in the polls right after inauguration, did you believe in them then too? I didn’t. I knew they were skewed based on some of the reason I put in this post.

    I don’t doubt the stupidity of the American voter, I saw how they elected the village idiot, George Bush twice. I am quite aware of how stupid some people are.

    And really, Ralph, don’t you get tired of contorting your own thoughts to match your politics?

  3. nah if I want to know the stupidity of the American voter I look at 2000 and 2004. The American people are stupid for sure but they had a good dose of common sense electing Obama. They lost it again apparently.

  4. You might say that. In the early 90’s I actually did a research paper on election polls in particular and then I went on to get a Master’s degree in Communications that was a very research based program. So yea, I’ve been thinking and researching the subject for many years.

    Polls aren’t necessarily bad, but there are bad polls, bad methodologies and rampant bad analysis. My problem mostly lies with how the media uses them and abuses them, often to further their own agendas (think Fox News) but also taking up all sorts of time that they could be talking about issues or other things happening in the world that might be just a little bit more important.

    Of course they also poll all sorts of crap that I really don’t care about, maybe you and others do. Remember the “perfect game” that was robbed from that pitcher, they did a poll asking if people agreed with the call….as if they were going to change a call in a fucking baseball game because of popular opinion. That is fucking nuts.

    Right now I”m looking at MSNBC and the lower third graphic says “economy and poll numbers hang over summer break”. MSNBC is the worst, but I don’t watch a lot of CNN and FOX to really compare. Morning Joke is absolutely obsessed with polls, but only the ones that reflect negatively on Obama for some reason, I don’t know why. :} But that show is all about polls, and they really take it to it’s worst end…politicians should change their positions because a poll says they should. Do you want your elected representative to blow in the wind with popular opinion? I don’t.

    I guess when people agree with the poll results it gives them a sense of belonging, being a part of a dominant group or something. The bandwagon effect, people want to be on the winning side of an issue, right. I know I like being on the right side of a poll result too. Whenever I write about polls I wait for the comment that says I’m only upset because I don’t agree with a given poll, which is bullshit. I am very consistent with my dislike for overuse of polls. I felt the same way when the media was fawning all over President Obama in the first few months of his presidency. It was so stupid to think that 20% of the population who didn’t vote for him all of a sudden agreed with him on everything and would support his presidency. That 70% approval rating he had at first was inflated due to a national pride at electing the first black president and in addition, all new presidents get a bump as people want to give him a chance.


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