Monday, February 27, 2006

Polling: Reader Beware

Polls and polling are an important part of politics, and one I don't know much about. To remedy this situation, and so I can write on the topic without flaunting my ignorance, I've been reading the 6th edition of Polling and the Public: What Every Citizen Should Know by Herbert Asher. Take a look at this passage from p. 53:

For example, in surveys in which the wife and husband were interviewed independently, their responses did not agree perfectly about such factual items as the number of children they had. Perhaps errors were made in transcribing their responses. Or perhaps the question was ambiguous. One spouse might have responded in terms of children living at home; the other in terms of the total number. Or one on spouse might have included children from a previous marriage, and the other might not have.

Something to make you think next time you read poll numbers.


LVDem said...

fair enough, but those were measures of facts... opinion polls are trying to measure perception which is not always based on fact. For example, many americans think we spend to much money on foreign aid. However, we spend less on foreign aid than we do on most budget items. Perception, however, is reality, to borrow a bad cliche.

AboveAvgJane said...

But it is all very much dependent on how the questions are phrased. For example, asking if someone thinks the government should spend part of the budget to help feed starving children in [fill in the blank] is likely to get a yes. Using the words "foreign aid" might be more likely to get a no. I tend to ignore polls unless the questions are provided, as well as the demographics and numbers of people questioned.