Friday, May 13, 2011

News Media Polling Data Depends on the Sample Used and Questions Asked

Earlier this week, the Associated Press came out with a new poll that said President Barack Obama now has a 60 percent approval rating.  The President has received a good bump in most approval polls because of the killing of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, but the 60 percent seemed to be out of the norm.
Some conservative pundits started to question the polling sample used and discovered that it was heavily skewed toward those who consider themselves Democrats.  If that is true, and I have no way of knowing if it is, than the high approval rating would make sense.

Marketing experts have known for years that you can pretty much construct a poll to give you any kind of result you want.  That's why it is so important to take every poll announced with a bit of skepticism and check the accuracy record of the polling firm used.  Over the years, Gallup, Rasmussen and Zogby have seemed to be the most reliable polling firms.  In Fact, the Rasmussen polling firm has been right on target in the last two national elections.

Political candidates also have been known for having very accurate internal polling operations.  They want to know exactly where they stand with the voting public, so they can adjust their campaigns to gain a more favorable outcome.

Issue polls are also a big favorite of the media.  However, you can skew the results of these public opinion polls by the way a polling question is asked.  During the Bush Administration, there was a poll that indicated that 67 percent of the sample was opposed to the way the war was going in Iraq.  Although I wasn't part of the sample, I probably would have been opposed to the way the war was going at the time, but for totally different reasons than many of the other respondents.  I supported President Bush in general, but was disappointed that he would send troops to war with constraints on the rules of engagement.  I strongly suspect that others who said they were opposed to the way the war was going were doing so for reasons polar opposite to mine.

The key thing to remember is that many media organizations will construct polling data to give the impression they want about a candidate or issue.  Think back to the election of 1980 when most of the news media was opposed to the potential election of Ronald Reagan as President.  On the Sunday before the election, just about every news media poll said the election between Reagan and the incumbent President Jimmy Carter was too close to call.  On election day, Carter conceded the election before the actual polls in California closed.

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