Media Opinion Polls Are Best Ignored

by Colonel Dan


The Cowboy Chronicle

June 2004


"A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion."

~ Chinese Proverb ~ 

These daily Presidential tracking polls have some Americans tied up in knots—those Americans that actually believe these media sponsored polls that is.  Some nationally known pollsters are reporting big swings while others are reporting a dead heat.  Do they really expect people to believe that Americans are changing their positions on candidates like that?  And how can both the big swingers and the dead heaters be accurate at the same time?   Most Americans don’t care about politics so they won’t vote anyway or they’ll wait until Election Day to decide.  The truth is, those that really care have already made up their minds.  So what are we to make of all this polling data?  Here are just a few observations from what I think is the saddle of common sense.

What is most important to the TV networks?  Ratings.  The ratings indicate how many people are watching and the more that watch, the more advertising dollars you attract.  This is not rocket science. When America has shown distain for politics and even on a good day, only about 40% vote, how do you keep such people interested in your news programs month after month so those ratings stay up during an election year?  The answer—present the election as a “sporting event.”  Make it a nail biting close match between two nationally known heavyweights.  Americans love sports much more than politics so turn the presidential election into a championship fight that runs for about a year.

How can they maintain the suspense?  I think we can gain some insight by reading a paragraph from a Wall Street Journal editorial by John Fund on the Gallup Poll’s wild swings and their sampling techniques.

“They might be even more skeptical of Gallup's tracking poll if they knew that the swings are due in large part to the company's nightly sample having large fluctuations in how many Democrats vs. Republicans are interviewed. One three-night sample, on Oct. 4, had 37% Democrats and 30% Republicans. Perhaps not surprisingly, Al Gore had an 11-point lead. Three nights later, on Oct. 7, a completely new sample consisted of 39% Republicans and only 31% Democrats. Lo and behold, George W. Bush suddenly had an eight-point lead.”  

So now we know one way they can continue to keep this going back and forth. 

Another way obviously is to vary the sections of the country in which the polls are taken.  How big of a difference might there be if the few hundred people they surveyed came from Boston versus my part of the south?  The final answer is—BIG.  And how about the way they word the questions—again, BIG difference.  There’s nothing real clever here.

Now let’s look at another aspect of these media sponsored polls.  They are designed at various stages to be opinion makers, not opinion takers.  The major media is not objective.  They are slanted and distort whatever they report to reflect their particular agenda.  We’ve all known that for years.  So why would we not think they would at least try to do the same thing with the polls they sponsor.  Need more convincing about the media’s effort to sway public opinion?  If they didn’t intend to influence voters, why then do they all endorse candidates from President down to city council?  How can you tout your objectivity then tell every reader that Moe is much better than Larry and Curly shouldn’t even be running?  Ask a newspaper type that question some day.

Are there any polls that give us a better picture of how American voters are really leaning?  I think so.

Every election year the schools across the country conduct a mock election held in grades 1-12.  They have correctly called the last 9 presidential elections.  Who did they vote for in 2000?  George Bush with 55% of the vote.

The Weekly Reader, the well-known school newspaper, also conducts mock elections and they have been right in every presidential race since 1956.  In 2000, they voted overwhelmingly for G.W. Bush by a margin of 2 to1.

The kid’s TV channel, Nickelodeon, started holding mock elections about 4 elections ago that I know of and have called the presidential race correctly the last 3 out of 4 times.  Who did the more than 330,000 kids that responded vote for?  George Bush with 53%.

There is yet another “poll” that has called every presidential election since 1980.  What poll is that?  The presidential mask sale; you know, those Halloween masks of the candidates that we’ve all seen on TV.  What was the outcome for Election 2000?  George Bush, 58%. Al Gore 42%.

Why do I put more stock in those kid’s polls than media polls?  The representative sample is much larger, surveying hundreds of thousands and covering the entire United States. They are also straight up votes—no slanted questions or underlying agendas.  On the other hand, Gallup and others use a sample population of approximately a thousand or less and sampling techniques that are “questionable” at best. Another reason I put more credence in these “kid’s polls” is that those children are mostly reflecting the views of their parents—again, no rocket science here.  One final bit of proof for my theory is their record.  They have proven to be far more accurate than any pollster or pundit around.

But what is absolutely the best poll?  The one taken on Election Day at the voting booth—that poll has a 100% success rate in identifying the final winner.  

So my advice is that you simply think for yourself then vote the way you want to vote and the devil with the pollsters and the pundits.  Let all the non-thinkers in America worry about those meaningless poll numbers. Your time is better spent reading than watching TV anyway. 

 Just the view from my saddle…





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