Sam Bauman: Are poll takers skewing our elections?
For the Nevada Appeal
In these days of constant bombardment about who’s up and who’s down in the political candidate races, American seniors may well harken back to the good old days when George Gallup wrote a regular newspaper column about opinion taking. It was much simpler then as survey takers were few. Now just about every political candidate has his or her own poll taker, Donald Trump excepted by his own claim.
First, what is a poll? It used to mean “the top of our head.” Ophelia says to Polonius, “His beard was white as snow; all flaxen was his poll.” Eventually, poll came to mean the count of something itself. So we have poll takers in great profusion nowadays.
Poll taking these days is quite different from those early Gallup times. From the 1990s to 2012, some 1,200 polling organizations conducted 37,000 polls making more than 3 billion phone calls. Most Americans refused to respond; a study found three out of four refused to take part. So today only about 6 percent of those called respond. This surely makes those confident news reports of one or another candidate leading by some percent dubious. During the Great Depression about 90 percent of those called took part in polls. Typical response rate these days is in single digits, poll takers report, about 6 percent.
Poll takers, of course, don’t try to call 200 million American voters. Instead, they use a carefully selected group of voters who represent all American voter groups — male, female, old, young, black, white, etc.
That they get things wrong is rarely admitted when reporting results.
So how have polls assumed such an important role in elections? They now can determine who gets to take part in so-called ”debate” that aren’t debates at all.
Polls not only decide who gets on the stage for debates but also their positions in the line-up. Fox decided only the top 10 poll winners would get on the stage, and since then the number has varied.
Such is the American way of doing things. An imprecise pseudoscience selects our candidates. Voters have no idea who makes snap ratings with no idea who is making the judgments.
Is this good for an open democracy? Poll takers swear it is, that all voters are “counted” by proportional representation.
Take Democrat Bernie Sanders, for example. When he first announced his candidacy he was at practically zero in the polls (a friend of mine dismissed him with a sneer). But now he ties Hillary Clinton in the polls. Were the polls right at the beginning, zero, or has the voting youths changed the game.
Seniors may feel we are conceding too much power to the poll takers. They find that seniors are more conservative than youths and get extra credence to the polls as they are more likely actually to vote.
I know that I will not respond to poll takers phoning me, landline or iPhone. But if I hang up am I distorting polls that will undoubtedly influence some voters?
We can’t ban poll taking, but we can take it with a grain of salt, or a dry martini.
So as responsible voters, seniors may have an obligation to view poll results with skepticism. Listen to the pseudo debates and form your opinions from what the candidate says, not accepting poll rankings.
I missed the Thursday night stump speeches as Trump and Cruz battled it out. Lots of issues untouched, such as climate change. But I doubt if we’ll get any comments on that subject.
A good local author at work
Writer Todd Borg lives at Lake Tahoe and has a string of very successful locally based crime thrillers, all featuring the private eye Owen McKenna and his helpful Great Dane named Spot, who always plays a major role in solving a crime,
His 13th thriller is “Tahoe Blue Fire.” As always it’s an entertaining read. A novel way of murder with a road clearing snowblower is a new switch. As always, the writing is straightforward and to the point.
But in “Blue Fire” Borg has time to include serious sections on how dogs relate to people, how they can mediate pain and loss. And on the cognitive loss that professional football players suffer after their playing days. It’s all part of the well-told story about a jewel that went missing and how McKenna brings it to light.
The novel is $16.95 and is available at Thrillerpress.com and Amazon.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.