In this week's lesson, I would like to discuss the relevance of polls in our modern culture. While I have voluntarily taken part in several online polls conducted by websites; and conducted polls on my own website for 115 straight weeks, I somehow do not hold as much credence to their validity as the media types would like us to believe. I took a few statistics courses in college and certainly realize that there's magic in numbers gathering. However I believe that too many important opinions and policies are formed based on random opinion polls taken by the Washington Post, the New York Times and many other polling groups, that sample a relatively small number of individuals and portray the results are an accurate measure of the total population (plus or minus 3%).
My question to my visitors this week is how many times have you been asked in the last week; month; year; or decade; to take part in a Gallop Poll? Since my answer was zero, I set out to find out why by seeking out the granddaddy of polls by searching the Gallop poll website. After navigating and searching around their website for fifteen minutes to try and find out how many people they sample for polls and how they arrive at their results, I just kept running into roadblocks. It appeared that to read any full article or poll results or even sample their questionnaires or learn more about their polls, I had to be an On-Demand Subscriber which costs $95 per year. Thus if I wasn't willing to shell out 95 bucks I couldn't navigate too far on this site in order to be an enlightened individual about Gallop Polls. This cost of participation will probably eliminate 99% of the citizens of the world from their questionnaires or results. Yet their poll results will influence the opinions of hundreds of millions of people around the world regarding major and minor decisions in government and business.
While searching on the websites of newspaper polls, I found it a lot easier to participate in their polls as an average Joe. The questions were short and concise and it was easy to answer by choosing one button and seeing how I my answer compared to the rest of the respondents. Sounds good but how many people are going out of their way to visit these websites to vote in polls? Also, by using these polls as evidence to form opinions and policies, it automatically assumes that the opinions of those citizens who do not have computers or internet access; or the desire to seek out these websites and vote are really not very important. There are lots of people in this world who have lots of time to spend on the internet. Are these the people who vote in online polls daily and are forming the opinions and policies of our societies? If so, these may not necessarily be the most productive people in our society who should be skewing opinions of policy makers in government and business. My guess is that hard working citizens who are struggling to raise families; and do not have the time to vote in online polls - are not having their opinions counted.
When I conducted my own online polls, my results were limited to the visitors who happened to find my website and vote. I can't be sure, but I believe that the same people were voting every week, because they enjoyed visiting my website. Thus, it would be foolish for me to believe that my small sampling of poll results were indicative of the opinions of the entire population of our country or the world. My results were only indicative of individuals who enjoyed visiting my website and decided to take part in my polls.
Now I realize that there is some value in polling. We need to know the opinion of our citizens and polling is one way of extracting those opinions. However, I believe that the samples taken relative to the importance placed on them to form policies and make decisions is not fair and balanced. As an example, we recently witnessed the Republican Party backing Joe Lieberman (a lifetime Democrat who's running for Senate on November 7th as an Independent) instead of backing their Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger. Why? Because the polls show that Alan Schlesinger doesn't stand a chance to win. So much for the democratic process! In my own home town where the Republican Party has dominated for years the Democrats don't even run any candidates for Mayor or City Council. Why? Because the Democrats believe they can't win and thus allow the same mayor and council members to win the election UN-opposed.
In conclusion, I believe we should relate to the data in polls.....large or small with caution. We should not believe that something is wrong with us if we do not fit comfortably into the majority of the poll results. Individuals who vote on the Fox News Polls probably like Fox News and will go the extra mile to seek out the website and vote. The same holds true for CNN, the New York Times or Newsweek. It's best to be an independent thinker who makes decisions based on their own independent research and experience. We need to seek out whatever knowledge and proven facts available to us. Polls are only relevant to the group of people who actually took the time to seek them out and vote in them. Major and minor decisions in your life are important to your survival, and should not be made based on opinion polls. It's prudent to decide how relevant these polls are to YOU!