Without a doubt, polls have to be one of the more useless pieces of political technology.
It is a good idea to understand what your constituents and the public at large is thinking, but polls have become far too unreliable to guide decisions made by politicians. There are many reasons why polls aren’t all that accurate.
1. Polls Don’t Use the Same Sample Population:
If we truly wanted an accurate scientific model for determining the shifts in public opinion, we’d be gathering the undecided voters and polling them over and over again. No one I know would ever consent to such a barrage of questions, and I’m sure the undecided voter wouldn’t be so willing. People dislike spending time on the phone with strangers.
2. Polling Doesn’t Represent the People who Despise Phone Calls or Unsolicited Visits: Any telemarketer or phone bank volunteer will tell you that they can’t count the number of times that people have refused to talk to them. It’s estimated that one may have to make 8-10 calls before they get a reportable response. Using this estimation, for every 50,000 calls you make, you’ll get anywhere from 5,000 to 6,700 responses. Any amateur statistician can tell you that it is not a good practice to poll such a small group of people.
3. There are WAY too Many Organizations Doing Polls: It seems like everyone and their dog are performing polling operations. Even 7-11 is getting in on the action with their “7-Election” promotion. While this certainly isn’t an attempt to be a serious poll that reflects the ideas of the American people, some are actually putting stock into it. There are even polls that are simply averages of other polls. How on earth can we say those results are representative of public opinion?
These factors represent the reasons why we see polls that put Obama neck-and-neck with Romney, 7 points behind or 4 points ahead on the same day.
CNN and MSNBC love following the numbers, but they ignore the human element that surprises time and time again. At this point, despite what the polls say, the election is anyone’s game.