Monday, October 5, 2009

Question: Polls. . .

Some people hang up on pollsters. Some people seek polls out. Some people lie. Still, polling provides an interesting insight into what people are thinking. Or does it? Maybe polling is too easily manipulated or maybe it just promotes group think? What do you think -- is polling useful? AND what poll question would you ask the public if you had the chance (any topic)?


MegaTroll said...

I don't trust polls unless I can see the question and the demographics on who they asked.

I don't have a single question. I'd like to see them ask a full list of questions on conservative v. liberal ideas and see how that turns out.

Writer X said...

I think like anything else, you should consider the source before putting a lot of faith in polls. Polls can be interesting, fun, and perhaps even useful, but I think it depends on who's doing the polling because so many of them are manipulated either intentionally or inadvertently (e.g. a CNN poll? Does CNN have a representative cross-section of people?) Then, there are the polling questions themselves that can be completely front-end loaded to deliver a particular result. How believable is that?

I think polls provide an interesting snapshot of a point-in-time or perhaps even trends, but I'm not sure they can be depended upon completely.

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, I would like to create a list of questions to really get at conservative v. liberal beliefs. Gallop and Rasmussen come close, but they never quite hit it head on.

I'd also like to test some of thought processes.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X,

I think that polls can be very useful if you have a specific purpose -- like how to improve a product or how to tailor a message.

The problem is that most polls are poorly done to begin with (how many times have you said, "uh, none of these" or "it depends"). Also, polling has been hijacked as a form of advertising now -- by putting out a fake poll showing your candidate ahead, you will actually pick up support because (sadly) people like to do what the herd does.

USArtguy said...

At best, polls are a snapshot of public opinion at a moment in time. Problems come when they are relied on as "fact" to support a news story or someone's agenda. Are they factual at the time? Yes, but they can be easily manipulated and the participants can be lead, often without realizing it, in order for the person or group who commissioned the poll to get desired results. There are pollsters who try and design surveys to be as neutral as possible, but many do not. Unless the poll is extraordinarily bad, most casual participants won't catch subtle biases.

I used to play along until it became a nightly event at dinner time. I was rude a couple of times, I was funny (at least I thought I was) a few times. I just hung up once without saying anything, and the guy called me back! Now I just tell them right up front that I work for an ad agency and PR firm (which is true in my case) and that almost always ends it right there. I guess they figure I'll know how to read their questions and will "disguise" my answers. Which is ironic since most polls disguise their purpose.

A quick anecdote. Several years ago someone called and asked me to answer questions on the state of "general health care" in America. When my stock "I work for an ad agency" line didn't dissuade the young woman, I reluctantly agreed. I don't recall the questions anymore, just their nature. The first one was a general health question. So far, so good. the second question was about AIDS. That raised a flag, but I gave my answer. The third question was about AIDS and so was the fourth. That's when I put a stop to the survey. I reminded the poll taker that this was supposed to be a poll about "general health" and then pointed out she asked 3 questions in a row about AIDS. She insisted it was about general health. I insisted that it obviously wasn't and whomever designed the survey knew these were leading questions that were only going to be used to fuel somebody's agenda. Then the questions became her own as she was no longer reading, but arguing with me. "Don't you think AIDS is a serious disease?" she asked. "Don't you think we should spend more money looking for a cure?" I pointed out that cancer and heart disease also serious then asked her if we should take funding away from those to give to AIDS research. She asked me what I thought was worse than AIDS. "Arthritis" I said. She thought I was joking. I said "no, arthritis has been around since the beginning of man and no one has found a cure for it yet while AIDS is relatively knew and it's cure has become more of a political statement. Furthermore, arthritis affects 1000 times more people on the planet than AIDS... anywhere from mild discomfort to severe debilitation, yet no one has ever called me up to see if I thought finding a cure for arthritis was important."

She hung up on me.

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, You're right. So many polls today are commissioned to push an agenda rather than reveal the truth. Plus, with the advent of push-polling, they've turned polls into nasty campaign tricks. . . the "do you still support candidate X knowing that they sleep with sheep?" type polls.

I've had some similar run in to your AIDS story on various issues. I remember one for a local race where the pollster started arguing with me when I insulted her candidate -- even though she was supposed to be unbiased.

StanH said...

As was said up-thread, it all depends who is conducting the poll. Rasmussen, Zogby, Gallop are probably the best public polls in that order. Ed Goeas and Celinda Lake do the Battleground Polling which can be interesting around election time, Ed being Republican, Celinda being Democrat, it’s a “bipartisan” poll for whatever that’s worth. Then there are junk polls CBS News/NYT, CNN/LA Times, etc. I wonder if they have an agenda? The only news outlet that puts together a decent poll is FOX News, not because they are “fair and balanced,” but because they have been close in the last few election cycles. For my two cents, I watch Rasmussen Polls around election time, since coming on the scene about a decade ago, they have been the closest to calling the elections.

patti said...

most polls i've had the *pleasure* to participate in skew the questions so that your answer most likely is the answer they are looking for. highly annoying....for them. i am the kind of poll taker that will question the skewed questions. maybe that's why i am rarely called upon for my thoughts.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, I agree that most polls today are trying to get specific answers out of you. Sadly, that's the way of the world today.

Stan, I agree with your assessment of the various polls. The other thing I find is that they rarely ask the right questions. For example, if you want to know how committed people are to "X", you ask them "would you give up $__, to get X" rather than just "do you support X." The second question is too easy to say yes.

Tennessee Jed said...

In my view, political polls on issues of the day are a horrible thing. We live in a representative democracy (at least in theory.) The notion is we elect wise informed leaders to make good decisions rather than a vote on every issue by the electorate.

A good example of a president who governed (in many ways) in this fashion was George W. Bush relative to his conduct of the war. At the opposite end of the spectrum was Bill Clinton. He was so into himself and his own popularity, he governed by poll and focus group.

In general, I dislike polls because they tend to try and shape public opinion. Not only do they reflect all of the techniques previously mentioned such as push polling, but even if a poll is done reasonably objectively, people will see the results and shape their own opinion to fit the poll. This is a rechnique known as the anchor effect.

Andrew is correct in they can be effective in product research, BUT ONLY IF DONR PROPERLY. How many times have you been asked to take a customer satisfaction poll where they shape the responses you can give and none fit what youwould like to tell them?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think you're right on both points. I like polls because I want to know what people think, but that doesn't make me want to think what they think. But too many people will change their thinking to mimic the poll.

And you're absolutely right about the number of polls that don't give you any real answers. I remember answering a poll once about my opinions about GM. And there was nothing as a choice that fit what I was thinking. They had clearly made up their mind about what answers they wanted and that's all they were going to let me respond with.

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