A new national poll by the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute came up with some interesting results when they did a poll asking Americans about polls. The telephone survey consisted of 800 interviews with people in all 50 states. 30.9% of those asked said that they participated in a political or policy poll in the past, and 10.9% of all people who said that they participated in a poll admitted to lying to pollsters.
People generally have a great deal of confidence in polls, 71% said that polls are very to somewhat accurate, and 72% said that polls are very to somewhat believable. Over 77% of those asked said that politicians who say that they don’t pay attention to polls are lying, but over 79% said that they think that politicians should pay attention to the polls, because they provide an important source of information about where the public stands on an issue.
Over one third of respondents said that they saw biased or leading wording in poll questions, but 25% said that the wording of poll questions was neutral. The rest of the respondents were unsure. 67.6% of those asked said the polls are accurate, but that the media reporting is misleading or biased. “They complain about our calls, admit to an occasional lie, and question the fairness of wording, but 67.1% said they are interested in poll results and 60.3% said they enjoy seeing how they fit in with the rest of the nation,” according to Jerry C. Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute.
The lesson here seems to be that people trust the polls themselves, but not the media to fairly report the results. This is actually a perceptive conclusion. Most polls are not biased in their methodology, but often the results of a poll are spun or interpreted based on who is doing the reporting. Many Americans have grown to accept polls as a part of our democracy.
I do agree with the idea that any politician who says that they aren’t influenced by the polls is lying. Every politician is influenced by polls to some degree. Polls are the equivalent of a performance evaluation by your boss. For candidates, polls are the only scientific measure of whether or not they are connecting to voters. All elected officials, except a president in their second term, will also be candidates again, so they are very sensitive to what the polls say.
What does it say about our society if we need to do a poll about polls? I also wonder what it means for the results if the 10.9% who admitted to lying to a pollster lied on this poll. Polls are not a be all end all, but the media’s reliance on polls as news has validated them in the eyes of many Americans. A good poll can be very insightful, but there are too many polls around that use garbage methodology, or are focused simply on getting results that can be a story on cable news. Not all polls are the same, and the problem with a poll about polls is that this isn’t taken into account.
Poll news release: