One of the common responses to uncomfortable truths revealed by polling (progressives do NOT like that the top rated poll has Trump up by one point) is: .
Absurd! Baseless! Untrue! No, it's true, the IBD poll, which was the most accurate for the last 3 national elections, has Trump up by one point. The LATimes, also a top rated polling operation, has Trump up by 2. Can we trust these polls, which are the top rated? Can we trust any polls?
We cannot dismiss these polls because they have an earned reputation for accuracy. Many do dismiss all polling, based on wishful thinking....but intelligent people do not discard the most reliable sources while believing less reliable. Whatever you think or believe comes from somewhere in the media, 99% of the time. Can we trust the media?
Honest polling produces useful information that is a part of democratic culture, telling how what the public is thinking and feeling. No politician would ever leave home without a polling expert to guide his campaigns.
But what about the bogus polls, such as the one done by 13 college students who found that Trump had 69% and Clinton 19%? This poll was founded on a huge methodological fallacy (the citizens of Montana had the same weight in the poll as the citizens of California. For every Montana citizen there are over 98 Cali residents! Such a poll was broadcast over the entire right wing media...and believed by millions.).
So I have written of polls which give us valuable information and polls which seek to deceive us. Both exist. So how can we tell the difference? Can we trust any polls? I suggest that readers use 538, which analyses and scores polling firms.
Those that have a record of high bias are either compensating to remove it (it's bad for business to have a bad record of accuracy) or repeating it. Ignore them.
Polls which score A have proved they are reliable and most likely will not mislead you.
But what happens when good polls contradict each other? How do we decide which one to believe? I think we have to fall back on context: are the contradictory polls equally biased (or unbiased)? How long is their record of reliability? Are there any external factors influencing the poll?
I would suggest that we use our common sense and only trust those polls with a good record of accuracy. Where serious contradictions emerge between equally reputable polls, we are left with: we just don't know.
That is probably the best place to begin from. If we think we know, we criticize polls for disagreeing with our beliefs. If we start with Socratic ignorance, we are open to learn....and share. If we can bracket our assumptions and be open to pure information, we can avoid many false steps.
A book can be written on examples of polling used as partisan propaganda. What matters now is that we know whom we can trust. The other thing we can do is dismantle bogus polls when we see them. We can rely on and support good polling, which is always a case of the historical record.
For those who think all polls are fraudulent, I would say: you don't know what you are talking about. It is your duty to find out which polls can be trusted.....blanket condemnation of one of the pillars of our emerging democracy is polling which takes the pulse of the public.
Polling, in many cases, is the only corrective to false assumptions. An example: Americans are center-right. I hear this all the time. However, polling and surveys show that Americans are in fact center left, favoring both progressive rhetoric, programs, and candidates.
Polls can be used to lie (see my earlier article on Trump 69%/Clinton19%) and betray the democratic value of measuring the views of the public....and they can be used to expose lies, such as the above illustration.
I have been fascinated with polling for over 55 years and have worked door to door when that was how polls were conducted.
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