Thursday, February 23, 2012

How pollsters can rig the polls

An interesting experiment out of Wisconsin today that shows why you should be wary when you hear about poll results.

A prominent Wisconsin pollster, Charles Franklin, conducted a poll of 716 Wisconsin voters asking their opinions on four things: The current state of the economy, how the economy will fare in the coming year, President Obama and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But there was a wrinkle. Half the voters were asked the economy questions first, then were asked about Obama and Walker. The other half were asked about Obama and Walker, and then about the economy.

David Lauter with the Los Angeles Times reports on the results: Those who were asked about Obama's job performance first favored him by a stout 52 percent to 39 percent. But those who were asked about the economy first were evenly split on Obama, 48 percent to 48 perent.

Pollster Franklin says that just mentioning the economy plants enough of a seed to make voters express a less favorable opinion of Obama, Lauter reports.

It's a good reminder: Poll results can hinge on how a question is worded and, as this experiment showed, even on how the questions are ordered. So organizations seeking a certain outcome can nudge the results their way by crafting the poll a certain way. Even polling organizations with no hidden agenda will inevitably produce results that are colored by how the questions are worded and ordered (and on many other factors, including how representative their sample is).

So when you hear Obama or anyone else is up or down, look for the full questionnaire, and consider how it might have affected the results.

-- Taylor Batten

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

NEWSFLASH!: Everything regarding politics is rigged. Do you honestly think we have even one honest politician in office today?

Anonymous said...

Now, now---Uncle Taylor is just reminding us not to trust any information that places Comrade Obama in an unflattering light. Remember, Uncle Taylor knows better than you.

kantstanzya said...

This is shocking to you?

Next we are going to hear the news media can actually make a candidate like Barack Obama look better or worse by the stories it runs or doesn't run, the tone of the articles and the spin in the story.

BiBr said...

Wonderful article! Something I suspected for a long time. That's why I prefer to think for myself and never give much credence to polls...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone read anything political anymore without taking a anti-BS pill?

Anonymous said...

These tactics are as old as the hills.

Anyone who has read How to Lie with Statistics (1954) has seen examples of this and similar tactics.

Anonymous said...

As someone who works with numbers every day, I can make them say anything you want.

He said, she said...

Duhr. This is news? In other late-breaking headlines: Sky still blue; grass green.

P.S. What's with the new vision test to make a post? Don't y'all realize that the old folks are the only ones reading newspapers anymore? ::shakes cane::

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new. The GOP are especially adapt at rigging poll numbers or trying to create false leads for their candidates to discourage voters from actually going to the polls. That's why the only poll I rely upon is the one where I cast my vote!

Anonymous said...

How come the media isn't talking about this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdjoHA5ocwU&feature=youtu.be

Adolf said...

Forget the polls. Look at the numbers people put cold cash down on.

www.intrade.com - there is just one question: who will win the election.

Answer: 60% chance Obama.

DistrictSix said...

The same Charlotte Observer, which goes after a Doctor using his property in a legal manner, lets elected officials get by with just about everything (Excluding Bill James who they love to run on and on about), runs a story every time someone at the DNC group burps, and on and on, with their bias and unfairness, wants us to be wary.

John said...

The CO and other media also do this by their choice of photos to run with a story, wording of the headline and where they place certain facts in the story.

Those they support are usually shown smiling or dignified, those they oppose are shown with their mouths open wide or with a grimace or angry expression.

I have many times seen headlines that imply the complete opposite of what a story reports, or uses prejudicial buzzwords or labels that don't apply to the story.

Perhaps the most subtle is when they spend the whole top of a story presenting on view of an issue and then bury the contradictory details at the tail end of a story. They know full well that most readers never reach the bottom of the column but they can point to the story and truthfully claim that they presented both sides.

To me, the worst of the bunch are the TV media who reduce every story to a provocative 5 sec. sound bite... by picking and choosing WHICH 5 secs to quote, they can totally reshape a story into their own propaganda!

Archiguy said...

One of the problems we have today with the quality of our democracy is illustrated clearly in these comments. For 30 years now, the Republican High Command has pursued a strategy of influencing public opinion by attempting to push people to right-wing media where their opinions can be carefully shaped. One of the ways they do this is to claim that every single other media operation - from radio to TV to newspapers to Internet blogs and websites - that doesn't explicitly push the official conservative view is a tool of the liberal elite and their agenda driven media stooges at every single mainstream media organization in America. As a revered icon of the Right once said, "If you're not with us you're against us." They take this literally.

It's worked remarkably well. Hardly a day goes by in which Rush doesn't rail on NPR, or these comment sections aren't filled with outraged conservatives, angry at heck at the obvious liberal bias of the Charlotte Observer. And I wonder why? They've got their very own television news network and they own AM radio. Their message is preached from Church pulpits and sold at Amway conventions and chanted in unison from wherever a group of Republicans get together.

It's next to impossible to break through all that noise with even a smidgen of the Truth, a glimmer of facts and historical perspective. They have been taught to ignore it, demean it, ridicule it, and to always faithfully return to the warm embrace of the Right-Wing-Echo-Chamber.

And now they have unlimited corporate funds to further spread the officially sanctioned message of conservatism in the form of SuperPAC's. Is this the future of democracy, something which the Founders believed depended on an informed citizenry?

Anonymous said...

One, it's a Democratic state. Two, it could easily mean that we (Wisconsin citizens) like Obama and his policies, but we don't like that he hasn't fixed the economy. As many ways as you can ask the questions, you have as many ways to interpret the answers Taylor...

Garth Vader said...

How the media rig elections:

Ignore Ron Paul

Anonymous said...

Usually, pollsters are a lot less subtle. They just choose a sample that's 10-20% more Dem than GOP.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why Obama was used in this example.....hmmm?

Anonymous said...

Normal voters know Obama will be down until Nov but media pervs will try to pump up this lib socialist with 16 trill debt for a 2nd term who is destroying this nation with debt and 3rd world illegals and freeloaders who refuse to work and pay taxes.

Is it just a coincidence everything is going soddomite in America under Obama including the military and 9 states now accepting homo same sex marriage with more trying?

On another note Obama was just at the groundbreaking for yet another black museum in DC? Didnt they just open a huge African American MLK statue museum and build it higher than the rest around it?

Why did they need to waste 500 million more tax dollars for yet another African American museum? Where are the European American museums who founded and created America or this is not supposed to be noticed?

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/CultureG
(yuck)

VOTE REPUBLICAN IN NOVEMBER !!!!!
CLEAN UP THE TRASH.

paid for by RNC

Anonymous said...

Anyone who'd vote for a dem0 after the promised "CHANGES" we saw after dem0s took over congress in jan '07 and the WH in jan '09, should be institutionalized.

Anonymous said...

Why not build a combination European & African American museum and kill 2 birds with 1 stone ?

Combine Presidents Day and MLK Day so students wont miss but one day and govt offices wont cost taxpayers but half ?

Bubba Muntzer said...

But polls do accurately predict the election results in a large majority of cases. They cost considerable, and if they were not accurate to some degree, no one would pay for them.

I see one possible flaw in polling. The population being polled always includes people like some of those who leave comments here, who already know the answers before the questions are asked. And who, I dare say, had an unfavorable opinion about certain candidates before they were even born.

Anonymous said...

When the Boss at IBM ask me what is 2+2.. My answer always was "What do you want it to be?