Poll Vaulting

Let me start by assuring all of you that this is NOT a political commentary. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will find it everywhere else. And I do mean everywhere else. Even the weather network makes climate change a political issue. Speaking of the weather, I’d like to make a few comments about polls – not North Poles or May poles or telephone poles or strippers’ poles. I’m talking about opinion polls – a somewhat recent practice where companies are paid lots of money to find out how people think and how they feel and what they are likely to do.

It started out as ‘market research’ where companies would try to test the customer’s reaction to a new product or service before investing in it. I guess that’s why we don’t have products like cauliflower gum or fiberglass underwear. And that’s good. But where it went horribly wrong, like it usually does, is when the government got involved. That’s when it changed from market research to opinion polling. A huge leap of logic. A poll vault.

The premise is flawed. I think the problem is the word ‘opinion’. Everyone has things that they know they know, and things that they know they don’t know, but everything inbetween is called their ‘opinion’. For most people it is by far their largest category. When you’re having a conversation, how many times do you say ‘I know for sure’ or ‘I don’t have a clue’ compared to the number of times you say ‘Well if you ask me’ or ‘As far as I’m concerned’. I bet the second category is the big winner. That’s because most of us are idiots so pretty much everything we say is either an opinion or just plain wrong. And ‘wrong’ is much clearer. When you say something wrong, it’s always wrong and everyone knows it’s wrong. When you express an opinion, it’s only your opinion at that moment and nobody really know if it’s right or wrong, they just know it’s different than their opinion.

And you can change your opinion without consequences. You can just say you got more information and are now more informed and there’s no stigma. Whereas when you present something as a fact that’s completely bogus, you’re immediately traded to the moron team. So to avoid that humiliation, most of us skip facts and just focus on giving our opinion. And we get good at it. We have opinions on everything. And they’re all totally flexible. Changing your mind is suddenly much more than a woman’s prerogative.

And now we have these political pollsters being paid millions of dollars to find out our opinions. I don’t think that’s possible. Imagine a guy standing on a street corner with a clipboard, stopping people at random to ask their opinion on an upcoming election. The majority of those passersby are already late for a meeting or are texting somebody or desperately need to use the restroom. They’re not even going to slow down, much less squeeze their legs together and give an answer.

The next problem that pollsters have is based on their assumption that people are stupid – that anyone walking down the street is only too happy to stop what they’re doing and give private information to a complete stranger. Anyone who would do that needs a reason to. They need to see some benefit they would get out of sharing their point of view. And it has to be a strong enough reward to overpower the risk of sharing an opinion that maybe the pollster totally disagrees with and shows it by smacking you over the head with his clipboard.

If I’m feeling confident that the upcoming election is going to have the results that I want, there is no motivation for me to talk to this guy. I have nothing to gain. So now our random sampling is excluding people who are too busy and people who feel that things are going their way. What we’re left with are the malcontents and radicals and egocentrics who can’t wait to share their opinions with the world. The kind of people who have blogs.

The resultant poll shows only the people who answered and is probably nowhere near a representation of how the general population feels. Some people will argue that random sampling is accurate in the same way manufacturers will randomly take a can of corn off the assembly line to enforce quality control. The difference is the can of corn didn’t volunteer to be inspected. For these election polls to be accurate, the pollsters have to be able to talk to the people who won’t talk to them. Which is impossible. So the results aren’t just skewed, they’re screwed.

We all know how weathermen can be way off the mark even though they get to see all the data before making their prediction. How can the pollsters have a chance when most of the information is completely hidden? For the 2016 American Presidential Election, I went online at 4:00 p.m. on Election Day to a website that had summarized poll results from six different polling companies. The average prediction was that Hillary Clinton had an 81% chance of winning. They were a little off. They were a lot off. They were far enough off that they need to wind down their companies and find a legitimate way to make a living. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Author: Yet Another Steve Smith

Yet another Steve Smith was conceived in the Spring of 1945 in what his father has described as ‘one of the most regrettable three minutes of my life’. On Christmas Eve of that year, while Santa was coming down the chimney, Steve was coming down the chute. He grew up, or least got taller, in Toronto Ontario Canada, followed by family moves to Brantford, Streetsville and Mississauga in futile attempts by his Dad to avoid litigation and seek employment. Enjoying the benefits of being an ugly guy in a small town, Steve married his high school sweetheart in 1966. He had several jobs while dabbling in the entertainment industry, eventually becoming a full-time dabbler working as a writer/performer in television until 2006. During that time he created a character who became very popular with people who like that kind of thing. Steve has done several North American one man shows in that character over the last few years. He has two sons and four grandchildren and tries not to say everything he thinks of. This blog may make that impossible.

One thought on “Poll Vaulting”

  1. That’s absolutely right. It is impossible to achieve a random sampling if people have to volunteer to take the poll. That automatically excludes those unwilling to take the poll, those unable to be contacted to take the poll, and those who don’t have time to take the poll. If you force people to take the poll, you put them in an abnormal mindset (greedy because of an anticipated reward, irritated at being forced, in a hurry to get done, etc) and that alone will skew the results.

    Another thing that’s inexplicable to me is automated telephone calls from politicians saying “vote for me!” Basically they are telemarketing for the politician, and nobody likes having their day interrupted by a robocall. How, exactly, is this supposed to leave me favorably disposed towards that politician?

    I think politics can be most easily understood by breaking the word down into its two parts- “poli,” which means “many,” and “ticks,” which are bloodsucking parisites.

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