Why Polling Skews Against Political & Religious Conservatives

Tuesday, October 23, AD 2012

Some 20 years ago as I was finishing graduate school, I worked for a polling company. It was longer than I wanted to but it gave me some valuable insights on that business before I moved into the line of work that I wanted. I got to know the man who ran the company; he ran polls for national and international companies and occasionally dabbled into political polling. He was meticulous and it became very clear that this job was his life. Now I don’t know his politics but I would guess that he was left of center, at least on social issues. However, he was nearly fanatical about being impartial and getting the true response. Some twenty years later, all of this helps me to understand how political polling works, and believe me it is very difficult. In other words, if political polling isn’t done exactly right it becomes a terrible slanted mess.

Here’s how live polling works. Automated computer dialers call randomly generated phone numbers, which are often are disconnected, faxes and or not in service. In a four hour shift you would be lucky to get 8-10 complete surveys per poll taker in a hotly contested political race. Now mind you that was 20 years before cell phones, my understanding is that now because of cell phones and caller id many polling agencies are using brief computer automated voices to ask questions. Most polling agencies have given up on live survey results on such things as your favorite bar of soup, breakfast cereal, shoe company etc. Believe me there were nights that we would put in a four hour shift and call over 150 people and get one or two complete surveys concerning your favorite shampoo.

When it comes to political polling my old boss (who is a Ph.D and widely respected across the country) would fret about the way we ask each question, our tone and our attitude. He would drill into us that he needed unbiased surveys for his clients. He would remind us, and this is very important in today’s world, that conservative oriented people don’t like polling as much as liberals because liberals believe in proselytizing their views while conservatives feel their views are a reflection of their values, as well as their cultural and religious upbringing. This is why liberals tend to be oversampled in polling. By and large they don’t hang up on pollsters and surveys because they view it as their duty and mission to get the word out. Again, my boss was not a conservative and he could see this 20 years ago.

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14 Responses to Why Polling Skews Against Political & Religious Conservatives

  • More recently, there’s the “there are a lot of nutjobs on the other side, and they’ve already proven willing to try to ruin someone’s life over political differences. Nope, not taking the risk that this number blocked guy who claims to be taking a “totally anonymous” political survey is for real” effect.

    As I told the poor guy before I hung up– “no, sorry, no political polls. I like my car.”

  • My one encounter with exit polling was when I was working at a polling place for a candidate, and a pollster was assigned to the same location. He had very specific procedures to randomize the voters he questioned, but he always seemed to end up talking to the young women. I’d bet that anything short of automated calling of random phone numbers, some guy is going to figure out a way to use it to hit on gals.

  • As Mr Hartline implicitly shows, accurate polling of “future behavior” is very difficult and expensive. However, since the Left has thrown off the mask and become much more menacing, as Foxfier notes, it does introduce yet another reason for skewed polling. It’s gotten to the point where anything advanced by the Left including polling (and most pollsters are Leftists) has to be viewed as agitprop unless independently verified. It will be interesting to see if the University of Colorado (Bickers and Berry) model of state (Electoral College) voting ends up more accurate than the public pollsters this cycle. It would even more interesting to see if the “internal” polls of the two Parties matched the model back in the summer.

  • Pinky, believe it or night there was a theory floated around the political blogosphere that in the midterm election of 2010 and earlier this year in the Scott Walker recall election, that male graduate students who were sent to do exit polls were asking an inordinate amount of women exit poll questions. Also the theory states, that female graduate students were asking too many other single female students to exit polls thus skewing the results. As you can imagine there was a lot of egg on pollsters faces after that fiasco.

    Rozin, yes some of the polls are nothing more than agenda driven polls. To save their own reputational skins, I can’t imagine that the final CBS/NY Times poll will have an Ohio sample at +9 Democrat. This number would be something you would expect to see in Oregon, Washington or Minnesota, though a Rasmussen poll today had the race there at 51 Obama 46 Romney. The last Republican to win in Minnesota was Richard Nixon, needless to say that poll has put the fear of God into Chicago HQ.

  • This conservative family can testify to not picking up calls from pollsters. We’ve had more than a few calls during the dinner hour from one or another questionable phone numbers. Since Maryland isn’t a battle ground state, I suspect that the polls are about one of the ballot initiatives. The gambling question seems to be the most well funded. We already had someone come to our door to ask where we stood on that one. I suppose Democrats don’t mind interrupting dinner or the kids’ bedtime to answer questions? I did actually answer a poll call a few months ago, and I found the questions confusing and poorly worded. I suspected that my answers would be twisted to mean whatever the pollster wanted. So I’ve been even more reluctant than usual to pick up any new calls.

  • I just got a call last night from someone wanting to know if I cared to answer “four brief questions” regarding a Democratic candidate for local office. I said no because I suspected that with that few questions, it was probably a “push poll” meant to contrive a certain result and I didn’t care to participate in that game. I’ve only responded to one poll this year, which turned out to be quite lengthy and asked about multiple races. Also, I made the mistake of responding to a poll in the mail that claimed I was a “carefully selected” voter and ever since I’ve been pummeled with junk mail and spam from the RNC and similar groups, so I’m kind of reluctant to encourage them further.

  • Two years ago, the first question they asked me when polling me is asking me about my religion. After telling them I was Catholic, the person hung up. At another time, my husband was asked the same question & when he wouldn’t answer the question, the same thing was done. I was polled once, again about 2 yrs. ago, by Rasmussen but was not asked about religion.

  • Exit polls do not require a likely voter screen and, as they are conducted in person, have a much higher response rate than telephone polls. Still, exit polls conducted in 2004 had some systemic error incorporated within them that proved decisive in context (and led knuckleheads at Harper’s magazine to promote the idea that Republican operatives had hatched some sort of insidious super-secret conspiracy to rig the tabulation machines). I think we have reached a point where anticipatory polling is so unreliable we really do not know what is afoot (but repeated instances of Mitt Romney tallied as leading among non-aligned voters but losing among the sum of voters are … inneresting).

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  • Polling is much more sophisticated than 20 years ago. Surveys can get the phone numbers of registered voters from the database at the state’s Secretary of State.

    Some of the polls you get aren’t “push polls.” Rather, they are conducted by interest groups seeking information about voters so they can then follow up at a later point with mailed materials or a visit to your door. They probably put you in a database for future use.

    If you tell the “Obama for Colorado” surveyor you don’t like Obama, they won’t waste their time trying to get you to the polls or trying to persuade you. If you are on the fence, they might work on you some more.

    If you don’t reply, they won’t know enough about you to do one thing or another.

  • Surveys can get the phone numbers of registered voters from the database at the state’s Secretary of State.

    It would be the county Board of Elections in New York. I am not even sure the standard form has a space for a phone number, and it would be your landline number on the date of registration if they did. For thirteen years I voted from the same address on Rochester’s south east side. In that time period, I had five different apartments and four different landline phone numbers.

  • Actually Kevin J though polling may be more sophiscated than it was 20 years ago because of more advanced software, the same methods that were used 20 years ago are used today. Pollsters don’t want to call from voter registration lists, they want random numbers because as Art Deco has stated your phone number is not always provided or accurate on voter registration materials. Pollsters would rather get a variety of disconnects, faxes etc than just deal with provided lists that may miss substantial segments of the populace, i.e those who just have cell phones or those who have moved since they registered.

  • I’d have to completely disagree. I was called by a religious pollster who told me there three questions. When I disagreed with the first question about the definition of marriage, the call was discontinued. Only one question. It is hard to get an accurate poll when those doing them refuse to continue the calls that don’t give them the answers they want.

    There is a saying, “There are liars, damned liars, and then there are statisticians.” Whomever does them skews them in favor of their views. ALL OF THEM regardless of affiliation.

  • Or, possibly, they were polling for a group that you weren’t part of.

    Good heavens, haven’t you ever heard of a selection questions? That’s like claiming all polls are horrible because you’re asked if you’re registered to vote, then if you plan to vote, and saying “no” on either one means they stop asking questions.

    There are inherent flaws to polling, there are induced flaws, and there’s a difference!