Polls Questions

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I have a ton to say about polls, but this is one thing that's been happening a lot lately that really annoys me. One typical example happened on Meet the Press this week.

The latest Zogby poll asks, "Do you think President Bush deserves to be re-elected, or do you think it is time for someone new?" When Tim Russert quoted the results on Meet the Press, he said the question was, "Would you vote to re-elect President Bush?"

That is so wrong it's hard to know where to begin. It's not the same thing. In answer to the second question, I would vote to re-elect Bush, without question at this point, because he is going to be the nominee, and I see no Democrat candidates who I would possibly vote for. However, I am very likely to answer the first question saying I would prefer someone new,, because I have never been a fan of Bush, and I can name in short order many people I'd rather have in that office.

And it is not even about my preference, it is about if I think he "deserves" to be re-elected. The question itself is odd. What does "deserve" mean? No one deserves to be re-elected, unless they get enough electoral votes to be re-elected, and if they do, then they deserve it. Isn't that how our system works? What other standard could there be? I suppose you could say he doesn't deserve it if he has committed crimes against the Constitution, but that would be an odd meaning to imply in such a question. So I couldn't even answer the question until I knew the results of the election.

Yes, I am being pedantic. But polls are supposed to be very specific and clear. The only way you can get reasonable polling data is to ask very clear, very brief questions that can only be answered reasonably in a set number of ways. And you can't arbitrarily change the wording of the question so significantly.

In this case, "if he is the GOP nominee, would you vote to re-elect President Bush in the Nov. 2004 election" is a perfectly good question, but it is not what was asked. Frankly, I don't really know what the actual question is supposed to mean; though Russert's replacement question is a fine one, it is not what was actually asked, and it is wrong of him to say that it is.

Russert is not the only one to do this, but he does it somewhat frequently, and I see it happening more and more as the elections start coming around again. And while in this case Zogby is more to blame than Russert, because the original question is so poor, it's not always poor questions that get unreasonably modified by the media.

And I am not going off on Russert just because he ended the show by saying "Go Bills, beat the Patriots." Well, not entirely. slashdot.org

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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