Polls have margin of error

Published 1:18 am Wednesday, July 23, 2008

By Staff
One of the major advances in modern political science is the preponderance of and accuracy of political polling. It is not an exact science, but it has gotten pretty close. If you see a poll done by a reputable polling firm you can bank on it in today's surveying efficiency.
However, you need to remember two caveats. First, the poll will have a 3 to 5 percent margin of error. The more survey participants interviewed the lower the margin of error. The second caveat is that a poll is a picture or snapshot of the moment that the poll was taken. Therefore, it may be a week later when the election is held and people, believe it or not, do change their minds during a week's time. The more adamant or ardent voters will not move, but most voters are not that locked in to a certain candidate and many do not decide until the day before. They truly are undecided or some ad or activity has caused them to move away from one candidate and on to another over the last week of the campaign.
These people are monitored by what's called a “tracking poll.” They are called constantly the last few days of an election or primary to see where they are moving. These tracking polls are indeed very accurate and they tell you what is happening at the moment. Remember, polls are snapshots of the moment. Campaigns will use tracking polls to see what is happening daily and it will also tell them what issue or development is moving voters. They will adjust their ads to exploit this trend. The campaign pollster and media person work congruently to be able to move quickly with these voters and tell them what they want to hear.
Another truism in today's politics is that negative ads are effective. People complain about the negative advertising and attack ads, but surveys reveal that 80 percent of ads are negative today. Candidates use them because they work. There is a direct correlation to a television spot running for a day attacking a candidate and that candidates numbers dropping the same day.
This brings me to discussions of a polling technique which is not really polling, but old fashioned rumor mongering. There is a political tool known as push polling. It has been around for about 20 years and has replaced the old fashioned runners that politicians once used to spread unsavory rumors about their opponent by word of mouth through country stores, barbershops and beauty parlors.
Today's push polls are more effective and hit their mark through scientific maneuvers. The push poll is designed to find voters that are on the fence and who might be easily swayed by a personal attack. Many times the attack on the candidate is very personal and could not be used over the airwaves because it also does not have to be totally accurate.
A push poll is not really a poll and the primary purpose of this negative campaign tactic is not to measure public opinion but to change it. For example, the caller under the guise of being a pollster will ask the vulnerable voter, “if you knew Candidate X was a communist sympathizer would you be more likely or less likely to vote for him?”
It looks like push polling and negative campaigning are here to stay, because they work.

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