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How reliable are polls for political decision making?





deanhills
The debate about polls started in a different thread, but I thought if I were to pose my question in that thread that it may be off topic.

How reliable are polls for decision making? My criticism is not the polls themselves, although of course there is an element of subjectivity where you can manipulate questions to favour the outcome you wish for, but the outcome of these polls are usually limited to the time frame in which they have been taken. For example, until three weeks ago, there were very positive polls indicating overwhelming support by citizens for universal health care. Obama was apparently doing well. But a week ago polls showed a shift in opinion. And who knows two weeks from now people opinions may have changed again. The results of the polls seem to have a very limited timespan.

Also, given that the United States is such an enormous country, with 50 very large States, how representative are these polls of the total population? The populations that have been interviewed are relatively small, approximately 1000 plus or minus. In the case of the healthcare bill these were limited to registered voters as well. People in Mississippi would think completely different from people in Texas, Arizona or California. Etc.

I'm sure it must be interesting news to say, right in this given moment, this is how people are thinking. But people thinking usually changes quite fast. Also, I sometimes wonder whether the polls are used more to market ideas, rather than to provide significantly important information.

Back to the healthcare polls, I would have thought a poll taken amongst legislators of the Bill would be much more significant than what people thought, as right now the healthcare bill is in the hands of the legislators, not in the hands of the citizens?
ocalhoun
deanhills wrote:

Back to the healthcare polls, I would have thought a poll taken amongst legislators of the Bill would be much more significant than what people thought, as right now the healthcare bill is in the hands of the legislators, not in the hands of the citizens?


But the legislators want to be re-elected. They'll vote the way they think their constituents want them to vote UNLESS, there is a more personal reason. (cash prizes, anyone?)

How do they know what their voters want? Polls. The system does need to change, as it gives far too much power to the pollsters. The best thing you can do about it is never answer questions when poll takers question you.

Which brings to mind, there is another reason polls can be inaccurate... a large percentage of the people asked will refuse to cooperate and give answers (That percentage varies, based on what the poll is about, and how it is carried out, but I hear the 'no answer' percentage is usually around 40-50%). It would make sense that the opinions of those who don't like answering polls might not coincide with those who do.
Crazy_Canuck
I am always curious what criteria pollsters use to determine who gets chosen? I am sure it changes depending on what the poll is about, but I think it would be great to see what profiles they use.
deanhills
ocalhoun wrote:
Which brings to mind, there is another reason polls can be inaccurate... a large percentage of the people asked will refuse to cooperate and give answers (That percentage varies, based on what the poll is about, and how it is carried out, but I hear the 'no answer' percentage is usually around 40-50%). It would make sense that the opinions of those who don't like answering polls might not coincide with those who do.
Totally agreed. I had not thought of the latter point. Also, they may have been caught by surprise, having to give their answers unprepared, whereas if they had been given a chance to think about it, they might have answered differently. Wonder whether there is a "test" of a sample of the polls where they actually go back to the exact same people who have been "polled" to see what there answers the next day, and compare these?
WHwarsInc
meh depends i got a poll out that sorta pisses people off. but if its a straight up poll like "do you like george w bush" "yes "no" "i dunno" then yes there reliable but there are others like "choose an obect" "object A: kills you" "object B: relieves pain" object a is water and object b is a painkiller no those arnt reliable but fun to post. so it depends
deanhills
WHwarsInc wrote:
meh depends i got a poll out that sorta pisses people off. but if its a straight up poll like "do you like george w bush" "yes "no" "i dunno" then yes there reliable but there are others like "choose an obect" "object A: kills you" "object B: relieves pain" object a is water and object b is a painkiller no those arnt reliable but fun to post. so it depends
Right. It depends on the quality of the poll, the objectives, the questions, the people that are being polled.
jmi256
deanhills wrote:
WHwarsInc wrote:
meh depends i got a poll out that sorta pisses people off. but if its a straight up poll like "do you like george w bush" "yes "no" "i dunno" then yes there reliable but there are others like "choose an obect" "object A: kills you" "object B: relieves pain" object a is water and object b is a painkiller no those arnt reliable but fun to post. so it depends
Right. It depends on the quality of the poll, the objectives, the questions, the people that are being polled.


Polls are also open to manipulation. For example, the tin-hat wearers over at "Democratic Underground" have been trying to influence local online polls to create the illusion that real people agree with their far-left schemes.

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x6304022
deanhills
jmi256 wrote:
Polls are also open to manipulation. For example, the tin-hat wearers over at "Democratic Underground" have been trying to influence local online polls to create the illusion that real people agree with their far-left schemes.

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x6304022
I'm almost certain that most of the polls are manipulated as they are hoping for a certain objective to happen. I think referendums are a much better way to assess people's knowledge, attitude and wishes. Smile
Moonspider
I'm of the opinion that elected officials should never use polls on any given subject to determine how they should vote on a bill or where they should stand on a position. We the citizens vote for a person because we feel that of the candidates, they think most like ourselves, and therefore will more often than not make decisions similar to the ones we would make if we were in office. If experience proves otherwise we vote against them in the next election.

Speaking for me personally, I don't have time to research every bloody bill and become a subject matter expert in every decision that has to be made in Sacramento or Washington D.C. Therefore my opinion should never be as informed as a person representing me in government (unless the issue is in an area where I happen to be a subject matter expert by virtue of personal interest or career).

That's why we elect people, to do the job for us. If they're depending upon polls, they are not doing their job. They're depending upon the citizens to do it for them.

Respectfully,
M
deanhills
Moonspider wrote:
I'm of the opinion that elected officials should never use polls on any given subject to determine how they should vote on a bill or where they should stand on a position. We the citizens vote for a person because we feel that of the candidates, they think most like ourselves, and therefore will more often than not make decisions similar to the ones we would make if we were in office. If experience proves otherwise we vote against them in the next election.
Totally agreed Moonspider. For me then the polls are not really there to convince people that the elected official is moving in the right direction, but to actually market that official's position for votes to get the bill through. The real target of polls is the legislators, and the polls are used to show the legislators that such and such percentage is fully behind the bill that the official wants to succeed.
atul2242
Me thinks that polls were the brainchild of some clever marketing guru.

Today everybody who can use them to their benefit does so.
The television channels sell them like hot cakes....
deanhills
atul2242 wrote:
Me thinks that polls were the brainchild of some clever marketing guru.
I totally agree with this. I can just imagine when people who are on a marketing campaign sit together and check out which polls they can add to their marketing package.
jmi256
I agree that true leaders use their judgment and experience rather than polls to govern best, but since we have a president lacking in experience and judgment I'm not surprised when he has to go back to polls to decide the best course of action.

I also agree, however, that some politicians select the results of particular polls to create a false sense that the public is in support of their schemes, no matter how harebrained they are. For example, here's another instance of the fringe left trying to manipulate a poll. What the public wants doesn't matter to them. What matters is creating the illusion that what the public wants aligns with their own agenda.

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x6446466

It's also revealing that despite the best efforts of these kooks to sway the poll, it still shows that the majority disagree with them.
deanhills
jmi256 wrote:
I agree that true leaders use their judgment and experience rather than polls to govern best, but since we have a president lacking in experience and judgment I'm not surprised when he has to go back to polls to decide the best course of action.

I also agree, however, that some politicians select the results of particular polls to create a false sense that the public is in support of their schemes, no matter how harebrained they are. For example, here's another instance of the fringe left trying to manipulate a poll. What the public wants doesn't matter to them. What matters is creating the illusion that what the public wants aligns with their own agenda.

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389x6446466

It's also revealing that despite the best efforts of these kooks to sway the poll, it still shows that the majority disagree with them.

Right, I still wonder at the enormous country with 50 states, and quite a diversity of views, and a poll can come out in the East and say 40% thinks this way and 60% thinks the other. Furthermore, when these guys are "polled" they may still be in the process of thinking about the issues. If someone would have gone back to them the next day, they may have likely answered differently and wish they could have had a second chance.
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