Monday, August 09, 2004


In an age of rampant political polls, Salon.com rates the pollsters (subscription required but I signed up for easy "one-day pass")

The traditional gold standard in the polling world is the Gallup organization, which has covered presidential elections since George Gallup predicted a Roosevelt victory in 1936. Wonks can read all about Gallup's standards on the organization's Web site, which is as canonical as it is unexciting. Gallup teams up with CNN and USA Today for horserace polls.

Most pollsters and all of the experts Salon contacted say that the major papers and television networks are also reliable. Despite Dowd's objections, the Los Angeles Times polls look methodologically pristine, as do the CBS News/New York Times, Wall Street Journal/NBC News, and ABC News/Washington Post polls.

Several pollsters said that Fox News, which hired the research firm Opinion Dynamics to do its polling, tends to have a Republican bias in its survey results. But in terms of methodology, Fox News appears to be a "model survey," Kyle Smith, a statistician at the University of New Mexico, wrote in an e-mail to Salon. In particular, the questions Fox asks are actually fair and balanced. "If you want a good standard to judge other survey scripts, I'd suggest using Fox's," Smith wrote. The Fox bias that some pollsters allege might come from the way numbers are reported, not gathered, Blendon said.

But, there are some polls that are not considered reliable. Really? We're shocked, SHOCKED to hear that news flash.

The Zogby International polling firm has been using controversial methods for years, and this election cycle is no different. The Zogby Interactive Battleground Poll -- regularly cited in the blogosphere and published on the Wall Street Journal's Web site -- is an online poll conducted via e-mail. If this sounds dubious, that's because it is... For the same reason, watch out for Harris Interactive polls.

Zogby does conduct telephone surveys that are less unorthodox, though they are still controversial.

Rasmussen Reports uses another questionable technique to gather its polling data: interactive voice technology (IVT), in which a computer does the calling and the interviewing. Though Rasmussen himself said that it is "easier to get people to talk to a computer than it used to be," polling units that use IVT have a reputation for low response rates. "It's a far cry from having an interviewer," Belden said. Holland does not let CNN report results from IVT polls... SurveyUSA, another prolific polling organization, also uses IVT.

American Research Group (ARG) polls are out all the time with fresh numbers from battleground states. The organization, however, would not release the most vital piece of information about its work -- who pays for it -- when Salon asked. ARG spokesman Dick Bennett told Salon that "news organizations" generally subscribe to fund ARG polls. But without full disclosure, the survey data cannot be completely trusted.

Salon.com then finds out that online polls are not reliable. Oh, really? I guess I should stop paying attention to those CNN.com polls. Riddle me this...

All the experts Salon contacted agreed that the worst polls out there are the fantastically useless Internet surveys like those CNN's Lou Dobbs asks his viewers to fill out on his Web site. When he says they are unscientific, he means it. They're really just for fun.

The lesson from Salon.com is that voters should know that they are not to rely on popular polls. And kids, knowing is half the battle!

Salon.com: Court of public opinion: Political polls proliferate in an election year, and junkies just can't get enough -- but not all surveys are created equal. Salon rates the pollsters.


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