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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2002 / 20 Tishrei, 5763

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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The perils of polling


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Polling is in trouble. Big trouble. The data is no longer reliable and won't be for several more years. Why were all the national polls (except Zogby) wrong in predicting that George Bush would get more votes than Al Gore in 2000? Why were all the polls wrong again in predicting a close Senate race between Rep. Rick Lazio (R) and Hillary Clinton in New York that same year? The telephone poll is no longer a credible method of measuring public opinion. In 28 states, the state legislatures have passed laws giving telephone users the right to opt out of receiving telemarketing phone calls, including public opinion surveys. More and more voters are availing themselves of this right and the pickings for telephone polling firms are getting more and more scarce.

In Connecticut, for example, 29 percent of the state's households have chosen to use the opt-out and these 500,000 people cannot be contacted by America's polling organizations. Five percent of Connecticut households join the ranks of those refusing to take telemarketing calls each year.

Even beyond the formal opt-out which makes it illegal to call certain voters when taking public opinion polls, the "hang up" factor is looming larger and larger in telephone polling. The anger which leads almost one in three of Connecticut's voters to refuse to take marketing or polling calls exists throughout the land and further reduces the ability of phone surveys to amass a statistically valid sample.

So telephone polling is back where it was in the days of the Literary Digest poll of 1936, which famously predicted an Alf Landon victory over Franklin Roosevelt because of the skewed demographics of a telephone poll.

Especially in off-year elections, the voters who refuse to answer telephone polls are just the ones who will most likely come out and vote on Election Day. Upscale, aware of their rights, and determined to act to protect their privacy, these are the same people who vote when the percentage of voting age population that casts its ballots drops to 35 percent during off-year contests.

The problem is that there is no substitute that is any better. In-person polling has not been feasible for many years. Whatever tales the polling firms tell, their interviewers are not the sort who will willingly risk their lives by canvassing ghetto apartment buildings in the evening. Besides, the cost and time required for personal interviews makes it prohibitive for a political contest.

Internet polling is growing more reliable every day, except for its blind spot - the 40 percent of Americans who do not go online.

According to the Census Bureau at the start of 2002, 60 percent of whites used the Internet, 40 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Hispanics. Interestingly, 25 percent of the poorest fifth of the nation used the Internet.

As the opt outs from telephone polling increase and Internet use continues to grow by about 8 percent each year, Internet surveys will become more accurate than telephone interviewing. But, now, the number of opt outs and the proportion of the voters who do not go online are about the same in many states. Of course, the voters who refuse phone polls are more likely to vote than those who won't use the Internet, but each medium has its own blind spot at the moment.

The other problem with Internet polling is that it is difficult to get a statewide list of e-names. An essential premise of polling is that each voter must have an equal opportunity to participate. But with opt-outs on the one hand and the limited availability of e-names on the other, this requirement is a practical impossibility in current American life.

Many will find the difficulty in polling something about which they do not get too upset. But we need to take all polls conducted in this atmosphere with a healthy dose of skepticism. The pinpoint accuracy that was possible in earlier days is no longer achievable. Politicians and pollsters must admit the new shortcomings of their once highly reliable polls.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.

Up

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09/19/02: Welfare reform: Keep on keeping on
09/12/02: Are Dems insane on Iraq?
09/09/02: Twin shadows of Election '02
09/05/02: GOP should triangulate
08/28/02: Trust the military
08/22/02: It's not the economy, stupid
08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
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07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris