News Stories

Do Polls Tell the Truth?

A longtime pollster says that media polls are not used touncover the "will" or thoughts of the public, but rather tomanufacture a "public opinion" that grabs the attention ofjournalists and can be used to fill media news holes.

In the 13 years David Moore worked for the Gallup Poll, helearned he learned some things about how polls really work.In the fall of 2007, media pollsters reported a solid leadfor Hillary Clinton among Democratic primary candidates andcrowned Rudy Giuliani the national Republican frontrunner.Clinton's lead evaporated in the first contest and Giulianilater dropped out of the race without having won a singledelegate.

Moore says, "Early in the campaign season, pollsters refusedto report the simple truth?that the election was wide open.It makes for better headlines to pretend that there arefront-runners and under-dogs. They love to show a wildlyfluctuating electorate rather than to reflect a far lessinteresting reality ? that months before an election manyvoters are undecided. Media pollsters will do everythingthey can to beat such an undecided voter into oblivion, sothey can begin horserace coverage long before the race trackhas even opened.

"Eventually, the many conflicting and nonsensical resultsshould shame pollsters and the news media into reform. Onlyif that happens will polls achieve their ideal role in thedemocratic process ? telling the truth about the public,warts and all."

Wes Colley is a scientist. He is not a politician. He hasnot taken a single course in political science. Actually, hehas little interest in political philosophy. But, his workin mathematics and statistics will lead many in thepolitical world to watch his research closely. He andresearcher J. Richard Gott have devised what they describeas a very simple, but surprisingly effective means topredict the outcome of the US Presidential election. Colleyis nationally known for his use of a computer modelingsystem in predicting college football rankings.

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