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Monday, October 29, 2018

Hey pollsters, don't call us, we'll call you

A reader pointed out this line from a Power Line post: "I find it interesting that the Times/Siena had to call nearly 38,000 people to get 737 respondents."

The post was about the latest Senate polls in Arizona, Florida and Indiana.

But the number that stood out was the number of calls they had to make to reach 737 people.

I can see why 98% of the people called either didn't answer or turned down the offer to answer a bunch of personal questions.

Polls have slightly more credibility than New York Times but then again, so does Joe Isuzu. And this was a Times poll done by Siena. That would be a deal breaker for me.

What exactly does the person called get out of the phone call?

I'm retired and I have all the time in the world. But I don't have time for this nonsense. I receive plenty of poll calls. I screen them out along with the Medicare calls. The last poll call I answered turned out to be a push poll by PPP, which I thought was a legitimate pollster.

Also, I already voted, strictly Republican.

Obviously, there is plenty of money in it for the pollster. If reaching 737 people is worth placing 38,000 calls then there is a lot of money riding on.

Ariel Edwards-Levy and Natalie Jackson wrote about this problem in HuffPost two years ago, under the headline, "Do Polls Still Work If People Don’t Answer Their Phones?"

David Dutwin, the executive vice president and chief methodologist for the survey firm SSRS, told them, "If four out of five people hang up on you, it doesn’t make any difference compared to the olden days when only one out of five hung up on you, insofar as the people who hang up are fairly random to the people who don’t hang up.

"And as shocking as it may seem, the research really shows that that’s more true than false."

Other polling experts said the same thing. Response rate does not matter.

But asking a pollster today if polls are any good could be like asking a tobacco company official in the 1940s if cigarettes are safe.

Robert Wuthnow wrote in First Things in August 2015, "Public confidence in the polling industry has dropped dramatically over the past decade. People have grown tired of its ceaseless rollouts, especially during election season. Fewer and fewer of us answer the phone when pollsters call. Response rates have fallen so low that it is impossible to know what exactly polls represent. Even in predicting elections, polls have been missing the mark so badly that poll watchers voice growing suspicion about erroneous methods and potential biases."

He wrote that well before Election Day 2016.

Gallup meanwhile has given up on election polling. The grand-daddy of polling admitted it cannot figure out how to get an accurate way to find out how people are voting.

The cliche is that the only poll that counts is on Election Day.

On behalf of apparently 98% of America, I say to pollsters: don't call us, we'll call you.

Sing it, Sugarloaf.

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