BLOGS FROM SIDNEY

On the Left Side

Sidney

Let’s Take A Poll

Blog From
November 26th, 2009

There’s been a leadership vacuum in Washington for quite a while now. You can hear the giant sucking sound all the way to the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, some say all that rushing air causes most of the hurricanes and tidal waves out in the vast waters of the Pacific.

And you’ve also heard about the list of powerful organizations that really run the Country. Like, the military-industrial complex, the tons of special interests groups with all the cash, the conspirators behind the new world order, etc.

Let’s not forget one of the most powerful. Pollsters. That’s right. Those folks who are paid to survey public opinion on everything political. At first blush, polling seems like a nice, little, unassuming business to be in. So, who put pollsters on the “real leaders” list? Politicians, that’s who.

More and more, politicians base their actions on poll outcomes. Lacking the sense of public service required to make hard, unpopular choices, our elected officials scurry under the protective cover of polls. A big part of Obama’s dithering over troop increases in Afghanistan is due to his hand wringing over what the polls say. Too often, if a poll says “no”, the President marches right along, bringing up the rear in the poll parade.

O.k., so politicians use polls as crutches to prop up their weakness. What’s really so wrong with that? It sounds like the will of the people in action. We speak. Politicians obey. Right? Not even close. Why? Let’s talk turkey about the trouble with polls.

The biggest problem is bias, with lack of clarity a close second. But, let’s just talk about the bias issue. It can permeate the questions, the survey takers and the responders. When bias is present in any of those elements, the poll results are completely compromised. Where exactly can bias creep in? Everywhere.

In the subject matter and the timing of the polls. In the chosen demographics and the number of people polled. In the questions themselves – like, which questions are asked, how they are phrased, even the order in which they are presented. And, when the questions are asked in person, suggestiveness can appear in the verbal inflections of the questioner or in her body language. And the bias beat goes on.

Surveys are so notoriously unreliable that they are avoided, if at all possible, in scientific research. Ditto for the non-profit world. Grant writers seeking funds from private foundations had better come up with arguments more compelling than “survey says”. But, not in the realm of politics. There, polls, with all of their misdirection, are our guiding light.

So, what’s the chance that pollsters will drop off the “real leaders” list anytime soon? Exactly the same as the chance that politicians will start being the real leaders. Unsure about when that might be? Let’s take a poll.

See you on the left-side.


 

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