Polling is an integral part of the political landscape. It’s also very confusing and many credible studies suggest that polling methods are employed to bring about certain results as much as to accurately gauge public opinion. There’s no denying that the practice of polling deserves greater scrutiny. But the problem is the pervasiveness of polling and its evil spawn, push-polling.
It’s just a matter of numbers. As Michael Dimock at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press says, “There are a zillion political pollsters out there doing message testing and tracking within their own organizations, and nobody has collected it all in one place. We all have a sense that it’s increased over the years, but there’s no easy way to prove it. There’s also no easy way to know what they’re asking and on whose behalf.”
That’s why HuffPost’s OffTheBus has started a national “Polling Project” which The Nation is proud to be co-sponsoring along with a non-partisan group including Pajamas Media, Talking Points Memo, Instapundit, Politico, The Center for Independent Media, Mother Jones, WNYC Radio and Personal Democracy Forum. HuffPost’s OffTheBus provides breakthrough, ground-level coverage of campaign ’08 by fusing the collaborative power of new media with the highest professional standards of traditional journalism. This new polling study, being run by Amanda Michel and longtime Nation writer Marc Cooper, is the first in a series of OffTheBus’s ambitious reporting projects and aims to collect sufficient documentary evidence from a wide swath of America’s polling districts to start to understand the impact of polling on American democracy.
The project is asking its readers to share their polling experiences. Exactly how have people been polled? Who called them? At what time? Did they agree to participate in the poll or refuse (one of the least transparent aspects of polling continues to be the refusal of most polling companies to release response rates, which have plummeted in recent years to around 30 percent)? What questions were asked? Did the questions seem fair or loaded? Did the conversation feel driven by age, gender, ethnicity or regional sterotype? Did the pollster seem to be guiding them toward a predetermined answer?
As Huffington says: “Our aim is simple: to get a better understanding of how polling is being used across the country. We want to get to the bottom of how pollsters conduct their surveys, how they gather and build their stats, how they target who they contact, and, ultimately, how they reach their conclusions – conclusions that often fuel the very races they are supposed to be analyzing.”
So if you’ve ever been polled click here to share your experiences and help build a better popular understanding of the political impact of this frequently pernicious practice.