Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Polls

Your voice matters party material

Masquerading as breaking news this morning was the "bombshell" insight that apparently 29% of us believe the United States is headed in the right direction. This gem of intelligence is hauled out periodically, often on a slow news day, or when a pundit wants to probe a pet peeve.

As an all-purpose stimulant of meaningless commentary, a new twist this morning was the reframing as a positive statement. Usually, we'd be told 71% of us believe we're headed in the wrong direction. Maybe that was considered too tough to take with the morning coffee.

This "news" again occupied the serious conversation of ordinarily sensible pundits on a cable TV station for ages today--discussing the shocking wisdom, from an unimaginable variety of approaches. Not mentioned were the questionable ambiguities in the question to secure this statistic. We're no wiser about what anyone believes is "right" or "wrong," or even what these terms mean.

Other than feeling gloomy or launching speculations of one's own, what's anyone to think, say, or do about what? Probably the only certainty from this poll is that it helps to shore up existing prejudices.

Regrettably, even missing now from the media presentation of poll results most of the time are the sample size, margin of error, and date the poll was conducted. But with this poll so flawed, contextual facts don't really matter.

The hazards of opinion polling affect us all in too many ways to outline briefly. But putting aside any feeling that polls are facts is a safe bet. In his unique way, Peter Cook shared a not-so-gentle warning about the potential hazard of polls as long ago as 1970--in the film, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer [4 minute YouTube, here].

What matters in this silly season of electioneering is to be wary of polls--along with making a plan to vote in the one important poll, when you can.