So what are we to do when the evening news readers tell us that one candidate or another has a lead in a race of one sort or another? What are we to do when that same newsreader tells us that some percentage or other of the population is more or less satisfied with the direction of the country, or with the performance of Congress, or of the President? What are we to do when newsreaders tell us that some percentage of the nation supports unrestricted access to abortion, decriminalization of marijuana use, or the like?
A wise man once observed that before a nation goes out to war, its leaders must evaluate its military strength and that of the opponent. If the nation is overmatched, then, that wise man suggested, the leaders of the nation find a way to make peace with their enemy rather than being destroyed.
That observation tells us that it is always wise – before acting – to investigate. For me, when it comes to public opinion polling, I try to do just that.
Here is a screenshot taken from RealClearPolitics:
Factors that may assist you in making your own judgments about a poll include how results are summarized by the pollster, whether the pollster provides a complete reporting of results (from which such summaries are developed), and whether the pollster reports the methodology for the poll. While not found on such pages, you might also do some research on the reputation of the polling agency, including the reputation for accuracy and the reputation for factors that might indicate open or hidden biases.
Now, I know PPP and have been aware for many years that they service a progressive, leftist agenda and clientele. But when I searched, I was fascinated by an article about PPP on the liberal New Republic website. Nate Cohen wrote the article, “There's Something Wrong With America's Premier Liberal Pollster: The problem with PPP's methodology,” back in September 2013.
“To be fair, even the best pollsters aren’t perfectly transparent. Perhaps that’s especially so when constructing and tinkering with likely voter models.6 And it’s also possible that PPP would still be a decent pollster if it used a more defensible approach. But PPP’s opacity and flexibility goes too far. In employing amateurish weighting techniques, withholding controversial methodological details, or deleting questions to avoid scrutiny, the firm does not inspire trust. We need pollsters taking representative samples with a rigorous and dependable methodology. Unfortunately, that’s not PPP.”
Polling has something to do with this problem, but now, instead of just black and blue socks, you have to add in red, green, white, polka-dotted, and striped socks. With presidential polling, because elections really are determined state by state, you have to further complicate the problem by having 50 sock drawers and the task of selecting a matching pair from a sufficient number of drawers to insure that your feet have a truly presidential feel to them.