blogenlust
9.17.2004

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Polls


Yahoo News reports that both candidates are claiming momentum based on two polls, which show two different pictures of the current presidential race. The Bush campaign is propping up the latest Gallup Poll, which shows Bush up by 13 points among likely voters. The Kerry camp has been boasting about the latest Pew Research poll, which shows the race in a statistical dead heat. Ever since the Republican National Convention, the media's narrative has been that Bush is pulling away from Kerry. This assumption was based on one or two polls that showed Bush enjoyed a relatively substantial convention bounce. Rarely was it mentioned, though, that many other polls showed the race to be extremely close. If you closely follow sites like Electoral Vote Calculator, Political Wire, and MyDD, you'll notice that every day seems to bring new fluctuations in the race. These sites are particularly helpful for sorting out the various state polls released multiple times a week. The state polls are probably the most important of all polls because of the Electoral College. Nevertheless, in many key states, the race is still so close that Kerry could be up by 4 one day, and down by 5 the next. As a result, the polls are really not that helpful for gauging anything other than what is obvious to most people closely following the election: it is up for grabs. Jimmy Breslin also advocates taking these poll results with a grain of salt. His reason is one that I hadn't thought of before:
Any editors of newspapers or television news shows who use poll results as a story are beyond gullible. On behalf of the public they profess to serve, they are indolent salesmen of falsehoods. This is because these political polls are done by telephone. Land-line telephones, as your house phone is called. The telephone polls do not include cellular phones. There are almost 169 million cell phones being used in America today - 168,900,019 as of Sept. 15, according to the cell phone institute in Washington. There is no way to poll cell phone users, so it isn't done.
I used to only have a cell phone, and I know many friends who have done away with the extra costs of having a cell phone and a landline. It makes sense that it is likely that a large percentage of people ( most likely in my generation) are being ignored in these telephone polls. John Zogby won't even use them anymore:
"I don't use telephones anymore because there is no easy way to use them," John Zogby was saying yesterday. It was the 20th anniversary of the start of his polling company. He began with what he calls "blue highway polls," sheriffs' races in Onandaga and Jefferson counties in upstate New York. "The people who are using telephone surveys are in denial," Zogby was saying. "It is similar to the '30s, when they first started polling by telephones and there were people who laughed at that and said you couldn't trust them because not everybody had a home phone. Now they try not to mention cell phones. They don't look or listen. They go ahead with a method that is old and wrong." Zogby points out that you don't know in which area code the cell phone user lives. Nor do you know what they do. Beyond that, you miss younger people who live on cell phones. If you do a political poll on land-line phones, you miss those from 18 to 25, and there are figures all over the place that show there are 40 million between the ages of 18 and 29, one in five eligible voters.
Zogby goes on to say that Internet polling is the wave of the future. It certainly has some advantages, especially with the potential of RSS feeds to reach people just about anywhere. Although, as electronic voting illustrates, there are potential concerns that need to be addressed before Internet polling can really become a viable and reliable source.