Saturday, August 11, 2007

Gallup: "We'll poll you till you get the answer right!"

Apparently, some weeks back, the USA Today/Gallup Poll did a "redo" when the public answered them with information they didn't want to report.

The poll was regarding the upcoming Democratic primary elections, and the people responded that Senator Barack Obama was tied with, and looking like he might pull ahead of, Senator Hillary Clinton.

But we, the public they polled, did not get to see that poll back in June because Frank Newport, USA Today/Gallup Poll Guru, openly admitted he redid the poll because he "could not believe" the information. Barely a week later a different poll did make it to press showing Senator Clinton still firmly in the lead.

I know what you're thinking, "I can think of an election or two that I couldn't believe the results of, can we have a redo?" But let's take a serious look at this for a second.

First, Gallup and USA Today are private organizations, and they can choose to publish or not publish whatever they like. There's no constitutional guarantee of fair polling ahead of elections. There's no legal "wrongdoing" going on here. But what about an ethical wrongdoing?

What is the point of polling anyway? One would presume that they're doing it as some sort of public service. That we, the public, might be interested in what candidates the rest of us like. And, that if we see a certain candidate rising, we might be inclined ourselves to take a closer look at that candidate.

If that were the case, then the poll would have been published, surprising information or not. I mean, really, if polls always showed us exactly what we expected to see, why would Gallup go through the time and expense of actually conducting the poll? If Frank Newport always knows the right answer, why doesn't he just write that up without asking us?

Or, perhaps, the point of the poll is to help push along a candidate that the pollster's editorial board feels is more acceptable or friendly to their business. Perhaps any information that goes contrary to their official position and policy is buried for business or political reasons, rather than questions about their own ability to conduct an accurate poll.

Let's ask another question here, "What harm, if any, was done by the hiding of the first poll?" The answer is we'll never know. It likely wouldn't have had a huge effect on the outcome of the November 2008 Presidential election. But, it may have had a minor effect during the primary season.

One poll showing Senator Obama pulling ahead of President Clinton may not have convinced enough undecided Democratic voters to assure him of victory this far in advance of the primaries, but it could have helped a bit with this month's fundraising efforts, and it may have brought in a few new supporters. And, in a campaign this long and this close, every little bit helps.

Welcome to Democracy, as brought to you by our kind sponsors at USA Today and the Gallup Organization.

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