Did you know that most of the “polls” you hear about on TV or read about in the newspapers are extracted from between 500 and 1500 interviews?
Now, back in the days when everybody had a phone which was wired to a box on the wall — commonly known as a landline — you could at least have some idea who you were talking to. The area code and the first three digits of the phone number told you that.
Today, not so much.
All of which adds to the challenge of trying to figure out what 130 million or so voters really think.
And then there is the so-called “science” of interviewing a tiny fraction of the people whose preferences you are trying to determine and coming up with accurate results.
You do understand that no TV anchor — Fox News included — starts out by saying “1036 people who we consider likely voters say that Donald Trump will lose to Joe Biden in a nationwide matchup.”
Well, for starters, you’d probably change the channel and you’d likely be laughing too hard to do that.
Way back in 1985, I was part of a group that bought a Tulsa AM radio station. It was a legendary rocker which wasn’t doing so well and we intended to change it to talk.
I knew that the Arbitron Ratings Company — then owned by Control Data and since sold to Nielsen — would not be kind to us. So I asked them to delist us. They replied that they wouldn’t and we weren’t subscribers, anyway.
So I bought a full page in the Sunday Tulsa World offering a $14.30 check for any Arbitron diary anybody brought in. We bought about 100 of them in two days before the folks from Arbitron sued me for about $480,000,000 in what is known as a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization suit. As my late morning man, Jerry Vaughn, said on the air, “racketeer … hell, Fred drives a station wagon!” (I did. Today, I drive an old Ford Explorer.)
Very long story short, I questioned the validity of their survey and they really didn’t want to explain to a jury how about 1,000 diaries in which adults were asked to record by hand every 15 minutes they listened to the radio could accurately predict the listening habits of about a million people.
We agreed that for a period of 10 years, I wouldn’t interfere with their business and they wouldn’t interfere with mine but nothing in that agreement would limit my First Amendment rights. (A year later, I bought another Tulsa radio station and the newspaper asked me what about Arbitron. My reply was that $12.70 is less than $14.30 but I could only afford three books, so we probably wouldn’t do it again since we already made our point.)
So why do media outlets try and pass off these “polls” as real news?
Several reasons, starting with the fact that even a stopped clock is correct twice a day.
Also, we have a lot more news outlets today than back in 1985 and they need something to talk about.
Those are largely the same people who said Hillary would beat Trump by 7 percent in 2016.
Are polls rigged? Not exactly. But you give me a result and I can get you that answer you want by manipulating the questions and the sample. Why do you think they have Democratic and Republican pollsters?
So, when the money is on the line, how do real companies do research?
Take J.D. Power’s car survey. They talk to 448,000+ car owners taken from all 50 states’ DMV files.
That’s a poll.
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