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What’s wrong with the polls?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 29, 2011

For those of us on the left, recent polling data has smiling. Depending on the Poll, the NDP has for the first time in a generation ahead of Liberals. Yet, no two polls say the same thing; in fact if your include the margin of error, things have not really changed that much; how could this be?

There are several issues with modern polling. First, it is hard to get a ‘balance group’. Most polls still use land-line phone polls. With more people now using cell phones, those who have land-lines are usually older rural voters whereas cell phone users tend to me more urban and youthful. Cell phone numbers are harder to get a hold of, especially if you factor in the ‘pay as you go’ phones; so polls tend to be unbalance.

This imbalance is amplified by the ‘hectic’ lifestyle people now live plus the unprecedented disengagement of people to politics. A couple of decades ago, those people willing to take a 20 min survey was around 75%, now its often down to 15%.

Another issue is of course the feed-back look. Thanks to social media and the internet, the availability and proliferation of polls has increased greatly. There comes a point when one must ask if the polls are measuring popular sentiment or driving it. This is need by the phenomena in the USA, where ‘push-polling’ has become popular. Push-polling is where the goal is not to measure but persuade. Usually there are a series of question like “If you hear that Democratic party was planning to create Death Panels to reduce the load on the medical system, would you support that?…Who will you be voting for this election?”. First, it allows the pollster the ability to shape the results of the poll, while passively influencing the views of the elector.

Lastly, polling companies are businesses and political polls are not money makers however they help elevate the visibility of the pollsters enabling them to get more corporate clients. This can cause two distortion; first a pollster may not want to alienate a client so will attempt to publish polls that support ‘corporate friendly’ trends; or they may exaggerate the importance of a ‘shift’ so as to gain more media attention or they may just pump out less rigours polls and, from their perspective, achieve more free advertising.


2 Responses to “What’s wrong with the polls?”

  1. Alma said


  2. zara said

    I have partaken in occasional polls/surveys and have been left totally confused as to what my opinion is by the end of it. the same questions are often phrased in different ways and I have found myself replying negatively to a similar question I had answered in the affirmative to earlier. I don’t do them anymore. But I always vote, no matter the outcome!!!!!!!!

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