Polls don't always reflect voters' intent

Saturday, July 23, 2016

I'm not sure when polling became an "important" part of each political campaign but at this point in the cycle of politics, I have zero confidence in virtually any poll, especially national poll results.

I have long been convinced that issues don't drive poll results - poll results drive issues.

In journalistic circles, we have always known you can word a poll question to get the result you want. And believe me, the pollsters and candidates know the power of polls.

Politicians of all stripes routinely denounce "misleading" poll results if those results don't favor their candidate or position. But let that same poll show favor for their candidate and they tout the results as if they were gospel.

Human nature is such that most of us want to back a winner. And politicians use those warped poll results to curry favor with the undecided electorate to create a bandwagon effect.

If you're like we are, the home phone - yes we still have an ancient landline - rings nightly with some confused voice asking if you favor candidate A over candidate B.

But here's the dirty little secret. Far too many voters at this point have not one clue on most races with the exception of those headlines races that cannot be ignored.

So if the poll question centers on who you support for attorney general, for example, most people are at a total loss. Most of us try to answer politely but without any conviction or knowledge on what we just said.

After far too many calls, I have adopted a no-answer policy. I just ignore the call because I have no interest in participating in this folly.

So just who is it that routinely responds to these phone polls? Well, that's a key question.

But I suspect this: Most poll responders don't represent the views of most Americans. And as a result, we get poll results that prove misguided, uninformed and wrong more often than right.

One highly-touted national poll showed Ronald Reagan behind by 18 percentage points in the 1980 election with less than a week left before election day. Just remember that.

Here's the truth. Many political polls are written and conducted in a fashion to generate the results the pollsters want or are commanded to obtain. They hope - with some accuracy - that the polls will help create that band wagon effect and move the election needle in their favor.

Granted it's a cliche but the only poll that counts is the one taken on election day in the ballot box.

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