Friday, September 17, 2004

Are Political Polls Worthless?

Two new pieces of information have popped up about polling organization methods. One is slightly sinister, and one just a sign of the times, but they both indicate that paying attention to polls is a silly activity in a lot of ways.

First, the non-sinister one. As noted on the electoral college predictor site this morning, Newsday's Jim Breslin wrote an article that argues that polls are worthless because they don't call cell phones, only land lines. The arguement goes like this: Because a large number of voters, usually the young, no longer use land lines the polls are deeply inaccurate and slanted toward the conservative, older voters.

Nifty. And possibly even true. On Political Wire, a pollster responds to the article. The summary? "As an industry, we must adapt to the future or face extinction, because the telephone will not always be a valid method of conducting random samples." However, for the time being, telephones are still the way to conduct calls.

Well, that's a way to look at the polls. But what about the more sinister problem?

It's with Gallup polls, and it's explained in detail by Steve Soto of The Left Coaster. Basically: "the Gallup Poll, despite its reputation, assumes that this November 40% of those turning out to vote will be Republicans, and only 33% will be Democrat."

The problem with that approach is that, historically, those numbers don't work out: "If we look at the three last Presidential elections, the spread was 34% Democrats, 34% Republicans and 33% Independents (in 1992 with Ross Perot in the race); 39% Democrats, 34% Republicans, and 27% Independents in 1996; and 39% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 26% Independents in 2000." It looks to me like Gallup has it reversed!

Why is this sinister? Well, besides the fact that Republicans usually are the ones ordering Gallup polls, the CEO of Gallup is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican.

Ooooh, scary stuff, kiddies!

Just another reason why the election season is so utterly obnoxious.