Political polling is not what it used to be.

It was our late friend and former Senator Keith Davey who provided the name.  It was called Polar Research.  It was the only research firm we trusted.  It was ours.  We never really trusted the mainline firms.  We knew their weaknesses.  We also knew better than to release our conclusions.

Our major weakness was the availability of skilled interviewers for Polar Research.  We had to work with the political volunteers who were available.  There is little time in a political campaign to train and motivate your callers.  It was for that reason that we developed a weighting formula that was based on a known factor within the polling sample.  It was only when we applied the weighting to the gross results that you could get a picture of what was happening.  Maybe we were just lucky but our polling—with its good or bad news—was always on the nose.

Today’s pollsters are probably more frustrated with call display than anything else.  Sure, you can overcome call display but too many people let the unknown go to voice mail.

The silliest survey technique to be developed in recent years is the automated telephone calls rudely asking a single question.  The call will ask you to press “1” for this candidate and “2’ for that candidate, etc.  By the time people get the third or fourth of those calls, they are punching a number at random to get rid of the call.  And these calls are only to people who have land lines.

No matter what technique is used, nobody today does really good surveys of political opinion.  The news media promote the foolishness because it is an opportunity for them to create a story.  These stories fill newspaper pages and air time.  They are biased by the media opinions.  (You thought they had no opinions?)

Not even the well proved reliability of door-to-door canvassing is as effective today as it was 30 years ago.  It is only when you go out door-knocking yourself that you realize that there are many people who will not answer the door to a stranger.  And you can be doubly rejected if it is obvious you are a political canvasser.

The added problem today is that one in three of the people you want to speak with are not even interested in going to vote.  Maybe these people could perform a public service by putting a plague sign on their lawn or door that says “I don’t vote.”  That could certainly save time.

But the facts are that no pollster can match the accuracy of the poll done at the election’s end by the Chief Returning Officer.  It is the only one that matters.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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