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Friday, January 15, 2010

Who's on the phone?

Are polls biased? I got to thinking about this when I realized that many of the people I know no longer have a land line. Who's polling them? Also lots of people out there are screening their calls and do not answer the phone unless they know who it is. I seriously doubt that the segment of the population with land lines, no caller ID, and who answers the phone to whomever calls is the same as the one who lacks a land line and answers the phone to whoever calls. I bet the former tends to be a single person who lives in the city and lacks the time to answer the phone, while the latter has a family and home and lives in the country and has all the time in the world to talk to a pollster. I also bet the former tends to vote 'blue' while the latter votes 'red'. Anyway it is an interesting thought. I wonder if the pollsters have already thought about it and account for it somehow?

Anyhow, this line of thought also got me thinking about how as a country we have changed in the last 30 years. I remember in the 1970s listening to Walter Cronkite on the evening news. Everybody watched the news. Everybody also had a land line and always answered the phone when it rang. I bet in those days polls were very accurate and that everybody was on the same page when it came to the latest news. Today with the internet, 'smart' phones, twitter, facebook, cable and Satelite TV etc I very much doubt everybody is on the same page. People don't even listen or read the news unless it is coming from someone they already agree with! We have become a much more segmented and divided nation, and I wonder how anyone, in this environment, could ever create an accurate poll. So next time I read the latest and greatest poll - I'll be thinking about who they polled. Also, since media polls might well be biased I don't think our government should rely on them when creating public policy. Elections are the only poll that should count in this regard. Patrick

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