Monday, November 1, 2010


Polls. There are all kinds of polls. There are totem polls, bamboo polls, weave polls, telephone polls, magnetic polls, there's a north and south poll. There are scaffolding polls like the ones pictured above. There are wrought iron curtain poles, barber polls, telescopic poles, light polls, trekking poles (for Star Trek fans), utility poles, flag polls, fiberglass polls, aluminum polls, peace polls, tent polls, Festivus polls, there's a whole country in central Europe that's filled up with polls.
They even have polls that ladies climb up on and dance around. I don't know why.
No one does.
Eh, what's that Herkimer? Those are poles, not polls.
Well I'll be...
But they sound almost exactly the same... doesn't matter? Okay then...
Polls. There are all kinds of polls. There are straw polls, telephone polls (again), online polls, tracking polls, exit polls, opinion polls, automated polls, person to person polls, horse race polls (if the election were held today), cluster polls, push polls, multiple choice polls, multiple round polls, ordering polls, grading polls, polls about barbers... there are all kinds of polls.
Alright, enough of this folderol. What exactly is a poll and how do they work?
Good question! Glad you asked.
We'll be discussing opinion polls today, dealing with predictions. Predictions concerning the outcome of elections. Political polls.
To put it simply, an opinion poll is a survey of public opinion from a particular sample. Well that seems simple enough.
Wikipedia tells us that the first opinion poll was a local straw poll (an internal poll taken within a large group or organization to discover the support behind various ideas, members, or movements), conducted in 1824 by the the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian, showing Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams by 335 to 169 votes to become President of the United States (Adams won the election by a vote in the House of Representatives). As polls gained in popularity and spread in geographical size and samples with greater numbers of respondents, polls evolved accordingly, gaining in complexity and the number of methods used.
Polls target members of a population. It can be a targeted population, say members of a certain age group, let's say 18 to 30 years old to see what students and young people are thinking, what issues are important to them, etc. It could be a survey of members of a particular profession, or a particular community (straw polls again) or any other kind of demographic.
No poll represents reality with 100% certainty of course. Polls are subject to sampling errors, which are expressed as a margin of error. That's why you'll often see poll results that look like this: so and so is ahead of so and so 57% to 54% with a 3% chance of error. That means that the 57 and 54 values are deemed accurate within 3 points or percent. There are various mathematical procedures that can be utilized to reduce this margin of error, such as averaging out a number of different polls asking the same questions, and usually the larger the size of the samples taken the more accurate the results tend to be.
Still, there are many issues that can affect the accuracy of polls making them, well inherently undependable, in my opinion. These factors include: when attempting to survey individuals by phone, some possible respondents simply do not take calls from people they do not know, or are unwilling to take the time (after all, they are not being paid), making the characteristics of those who do respond, who do take the survey, unrepresentative of the population one is trying to poll. This is called "non-response bias."
A "response bias," occurs when individual's answers do not represent their true beliefs. This can occur due to deliberate manipulation by those conducting the survey (i.e., fraud) wishing to predict a particular outcome in order to influence a particular election, or to please those that hired the pollster, or respondents may shade their answers to exaggerate their point of view in the hopes of gathering support for their perceived cause. Or they may veer their response due to peer pressure, not wanting to advocate an unpopular position, etc.
The way surveys are worded can certainly affect results. For example, and unscrupulous pollster may word the survey thus: "Would you vote for so-in-so if you knew they were convicted sex offenders?" Or "If you knew so-in-so was a habitual puppy killer, would you support them in the next election?"
Why yes, of course!
Actually, most respondents would probably say no, they would not vote, or support such a candidate. Notice that the pollster provided no evidence whatsoever that the candidate in question, Mr. or Ms. so-in-so, was actually a sex offender, or puppy killer, but the way the question was worded it implied that was the case. This technique instills the derogatory idea into the voters consciousness, and at the same time the pollster can report negative results in the actual poll.
In other words, polls are exceptionably suseptible to manipulation.
Now in the United States polling is conducted buy various organization as a business. We have the Gallup poll, the Harris poll, the Pew and Rasmussen polls. The Zogby poll, among others. Each organization is judged by their past performance and reputation. Some of these organization's reputations contain a built in bias, for instance, Time magazine has described the Rasmussen Report as a "conservative-leaning polling group," noting that it's president, Scott Rasmussen was a paid consultant for the 2004 George W. Bush campaign, and it's surveys have received much criticism over their wording.
Okay, now about tomorrow's election. Every time I open my Yahoo Email each day I see a different story from the Associated Press (AP) about how the Republicans are going to win and take over Congress. Every freaking day. It's either that or some variant of that. "Expected to Win the House, the GOP has it's Eyes on the Senate." Or "The GOP Poised to Take Over The House and Readies For Post Election Turnover," or some such crap. They usually site some recent poll that support their headline. Other news organizations do the vary same thing, in print, online, or on television. That is how the "common wisdom," becomes the "common wisdom." Apparently because the AP, Fox "News," CNN, and others tell us it is.
Considering the inherent difficulties in judging the accuracy of polls, and the corporate media's reliance on them to stir up their viewing audience and garner increases in ratings, and possibly to support their own political ambitions (i.e., Fox), I rarely take poll results seriously (especially if they do not support my positions or candidates).
Now on to what bothers me most about pre-election polling data. Most media outlets, whether they be radio, newspaper, print, Internet, cable and broadcast television, these days are owned and operated by large corporations, and as these media outlets are merged into fewer and fewer hands, outlets, or owners, their power to influence the voting public increases exponentially. The information that the American public is offered, the only sources of information available, is filtered by a shrinking number of interests that have the ability to insert their bias into said information, making that information propaganda.
Polling can be one tool in a propagandist's arsenal.
"A widely held view among both politicians and pollsters that polls, once used largely to help a candidate shape strategy, increasingly can affect the outcome of political campaigns in the Internet Age. Candidates and their allies instantly disseminate bare-bones results, seizing on those that reflect well on their own prospects, ignoring the rest and generally skipping over details that might caution people about reading too much into them."-DAVID ESPO, AP
Use of polling data to influence the outcome of an election is a dangerous idea that is worthy of consideration. Monied interests are vested in the outcome of elections to further their own narrow agendas. If they control the information the public receives, or if they can pretend to predict the outcome of elections that have not yet taken place, and thereby influencing the actual outcome of the election in their favor, then we've become nothing more than a dictatorial corporatocracy.
The Supreme Court stole the democratic process from us last January 21st.
Allowing corporations now to dictate who has won our elections is one more step toward social and political enslavement.
Do not allow this to happen, dear readers. Do not listen to polls. Do not listen to the corporate media. Go out and vote your conscious. Let us tell them who the winners of our elections are, and let us take control of our own destiny.

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