The survey says…

distributorcap NY
I hate polls. Well not really – I hate what the media has done to polls. Polls have become the be-all, end-all for decision making. Polls have become an excuse for the media to stop thinking. Polls have become something of an absolute for the punditry – as opposed to a snapshot in time of some mysterious sample. Polls are to the pundits like what Britney Spears is to Good Morning America – the hook, the got-it, the story.

But more than anything, polls make great television. You don’t need any expensive writers to explain, the graphics department gets to make some nice fancy charts and maps, and the bloviators find them more orgasmic than Pamela Anderson. And who doesn’t love to see lots of reds and blues and numbers? Polls also allow people like Joe Scarborough, George Stephanopolous and Tim Russert to fight with Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Cokie Roberts about the world of what ifs. Basically polls give all of these pundits something to do for months until the only poll that counts occurs on November 4, 2008 (now whether THAT poll is fair is for another post and a smarter mind).

So if you watch enough of the talking poll-heads in the past few months you would know, Obama is up, Hillary is down, McCain is sideways. Hillary can’t win in New Hampshire, Rudy is the man, Obama beats McCain by 2 – oops today McCain beats Obama by 9. Hillary has a lock on Pennsylvania, Obama is now within striking distance. Today 28% of the country says the surge working, but yesterday it was 38%. Polls say the country is heading in the wrong direction, but the same polls say McCain (who is actually running on a Bush-extension platform) can and will win. In other words the polls say everything and yet they say absolutely nothing. But if you listen to Matthews and Scarborough enough (and I sure do) you would think that you should take your life savings out every day and go bet the house on the person they have touted as our next President (because the polls they refer to are never wrong). Think of all the money you would win! They are even better than the weathermen.

Being that I deal with polls (in a different context) every day at work, I know that the machine gun spewing of this data by these “journalists” in the vacuum they operate is ridiculous at best, irresponsible at worst. I have written several posts about polls and their pratfalls – but since we live a world the demands instantaneous information overload – I am beginning to believe that I can’t write enough about their shortcomings.

First of all there are literally hundreds of organizations doing all this electoral and political polling. Some are well known – like Zogby, Rasmussen, SurveyUSA and Gallup. Others are news organizations pooling resources like NBC/Wall Street Journal, CBS/New York Times, ABC/Washington Post, and AP/Ipsos. Still others are localized like Quinnipiac, Marist, and many other local universities. All have different methodologies of gathering the data, standards for acceptable polling practices, sample sizes, sample balances and sample recruitment techniques. In other words, no two polls are the same in results and more important – the same in quality. That doesn’t mean you are not getting quality or usable results – they are just all different.

You gotta love that the diarrhea-spewers just rattling off these numbers and giving absolutely zero context to it. So while the horse race is fun and exciting, the training, feeding and care of those same horses is boring and sleep-inducing. No caller at Belmont or Santa Anita is going to tell you how the horse got there – only if the horse is winning or if it is heading to the glue factory. Same with the (so-called) pundits. Who cares if the polls have different samples or ways of collecting that data? – they are fun, exciting, great television, and of course – absolutely correct (until tomorrow)!

Do they ever say what the sample consisted of or whom it was targeting? (young voters, ethnic voters, rich voters, registered voters, likely voters) Do they ever say if the sample was balanced (or weighted) to match the population (were there too many old voters, too many Republicans, too many from the South et al)? Do they ever say that pollsters sometimes have to ask (or maybe beg) so many people beyond the initial random selection just to get enough participants (thus taking some of the randomness out the poll)? Do they ever say that people actually lie to pollsters? Do they ever explain what margin of error really means other than just saying “within the margin of error”? And most importantly, when it comes to the Presidential election – do they ever say that these national polls are irrelevant and plain crap. For example:

2000 election









<–notice the electoral vote

Do they even mention that the national numbers are meaningless in a country that uses an antiquated, ridiculous and unfair voting system called the electoral college?

Obviously the answer to ALL of the above questions is a resounding NO. They don’t do diddlysquat (which of course would mean doing real work). They just pour out the numbers like it was the Gospel and expect the masses to see they are getting manna from heaven from the “smart guys” in the towering halls of Zogby International.

The people eat this shit up. The media eats this shit up. Isn’t amazing when each poll comes out, the previous one is forgotten like it was some really bad musical group with a one-hit wonder. But just like any computer whiz will tell you GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. These national polls, presented to us in living color and in a complete vacuum, are nothing more than Huxley’s “soma” from Brave New World. A powerful psychotropic drug keeping the population well “informed” — one big group of shiny happy people. The irresponsibility of the media in the manner this information is misused is just another sad black mark on journalism in this country. And with a large chunk of this country in a brain dead, non-thinking, vegetative state….you get the government you have asked for.  Because that is what the polls say.

~ by distributorcap on April 7, 2008.

21 Responses to “The survey says…”

  1. What would happen if cable news threw a screaming match and nobody came? Think they’d shut up and the information superhighway might unclog? You rail against the very bloviators you enable by continuing to be their faithful audience. If you don’t like the glut and the resulting nonsense, stop contriburing to it. It takes two to tango. Turn ’em off.

  2. Poliing stats are science. It’s like selling cars, you only talk about what you know.
    I have done a few polls and i was completely dishonest.
    I know the majority of Americans have done a pll at least once. but that doesn’t measureup to any kind of reliable consensus.
    you se it id the ability to spin information. to use empirical criteria to make the poll seem legitimate. the same is done with statistics to paint grim pictures on any demographic of society. Once we start blending numbers with rhetoric we forget all about the math.
    I know Zogby and come to think of it i need a job.

  3. This is exactly why I pay no attention, whatsoever, to those polls! Everyone knows that the only VALID POLLS are the voluntary ones, on the internets. Duh.

  4. I think you’re absolutely right, DCNY. Polls are cheaper than real investigative reporting. News (at least network) has always been the biggest money drain on T.V. So why not buy some poll results and hire some blowhard to yell about them? The [ress in this country has gone to pot. That’s a major reason why there isn’t an even bigger push to get out of Iraq and why McCain even stands a chance. If the war was front page and lead story news every day like Vietnam was, people would think about it instead of whether Beyonce and Jay-Z are doing.

  5. Being that I deal with polls (in a different context) every day at work,” oh yeah, oh yeah.

    It all about 10 pounds of shit (plus or minus 3%) in a 9 pound bag at this point. And it stinks.

  6. DCap – The fact is that the polls are news because we are a nation in love with it’s numbers. You can’t watch a news show these days without having the stock ticker flash below the screen or watch a sports newscast without getting the career numbers of this athlete or that. Is it really any wonder that these political polls function in the same manner. You know it’s not news. I know it’s not news. But fuck if it doesn’t feed our numbers jones.

  7. What Spartacus said. I think people who love sports stats love polls. Me? No on both. Yes, I like to see the trends, but unless you know the nuts and bolts of the actual poll, it’s pretty much worthless.

  8. Lies, damn lies and statistics or the average human has one breast and one testicle.

    Sorry, can’t remember who said either one but I just remembered them

  9. ralph — while i may watch and listen too much to those clowns, that is not my point. my point is how they abuse the information. i can turn them off. that wont stop them

    david — and your point is?

    candance – LOL

    cowboy – absolutely — if iraq led the news it would be SO different, but i guess polls say they shouldnt lead with iraq

    fran — or a bunch of meters, it all sucks. big time

    spart — right on, not only is it not news, it is misinformation — i am telling you we are living more and more like 1984

    PINY – totally worthless — but the media is SO responsible

    susan – 😎

  10. My point?
    I love polls when they support what I think.

  11. That’s a beautiful picture dcap, as beautiful as talking hairpiece anchorbabes. I love the swirly colors.

  12. Yup, polls are nothing more than spin for corporate interests. The candidates also use them to either boost their candidacy when they are ahead. Or, sometimes, when a candidate ahead in a poll, the other candidate will claim that they are even further ahead so as to make the expectations of winning higher. Example: Clinton is ahead in the polls in PA by 10 points, Obama says he’s believes the polls are wrong and he’s behind by 20 points. That way, if Clinton wins by 10, he says, “See, I did better than expected and Clinton is losing support!” I see this kind of thing in both camps. Lower the bar, and they always come out looking better.

    I hate polls, don’t pay attention to them…it’s not worth the aggravation. Our media are a bunch of slackers and the polls just enable their habits.

    Great post as always, Dcap!

  13. Speaking of Polls.

    Did you ever hear the joke about the Pol who didn’t want to go to work?

    He called in Dead.

  14. But if people stopped giving the pollsters an outlet, by sopping up the media who report their findings, they’d have to close down. My point is we’re all complicit. And that horse is way, way out of the barn, I know. I just have my own private crusade and refuse to support the screamers. They do us harm.

  15. Psssttt…youguys, right this second you can go vote on MSNBC to whether you believe Petraus’s testimony or not and which candidate is better to lead us on Iraq. So far, a majority of people do not believe Petraus and Barack is ahead. You can only vote once.

    BTW, great article Dcap.


  16. Psst again, here’s the link, you have to log in to MSNBC though…

    So my questions are, this is random, right? People can only vote once…is it valid? Will they do an article on the results? Gotta run, later.

    Howdy doody always scared me.

  17. I’m a charter reader of the Huffington Post. Arianna Huffington loathes polls and suggests we all ignore pollsters’ requests for our input.
    However, a fair number of her blogging team use polling results to make their points- whatever they may be.
    Without polls, cable news would be dark until November. Reason enough to put an end to polls.

  18. You go, Karen!

  19. david — touche…. good answer

    randal — oh you must love the NBC peacock

    ME — welcome back! i am with you — however i actually listen — train wreck polls fascinate me, or catch my attention

    fairlane — why dont pols have ice? the guy with the recipe died

    ralph — you are so right — we have to get the people with Nielsen meters to stop watching

    marjorie — i love those polls — they are SO bent. they are not random or scientific

    KZ — wouldnt it be nice to have fox and cnn and msnbc just talk about Britney until november

  20. I confess to having an interest in polls. Numbers. I like numbers. It’s a math and science geek thing. But even so, it’s been taken to extremes: “80% of vegetarian Eskimo women prefer Hilary…”

    I recently accepted an invitation to join Knowledge Networks as a data point. I will do my small part to move the numbers.

  21. polls are so important as long as they support their viewpoints. when they don’t they say shit like “so?”

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