Saturday, August 06, 2005

Be wary of online polls

On a CNN show last night, the host and his guests were discussing the results of a AP poll regarding the state of the Presidency. The poll was scientific, thus (in my opinion) credible. Then, the host urged viewers to participate in a CNN poll where the question (I did not write it down word for word)was whether or not one approved of the Bush Presidency. The possible answers were yes or no. The reader could submit his/her vote on an internet site.

What's wrong with this poll. Well, the technical term is a voluntary response poll. The respondees would most likely be people that had a strong opinion one way or the other. For example, if most people viewing the program were "anti-Bush", then the majority of responses would be no. In no way does such a poll reflect the true sentiment of the American population.

I was curious. How many other voluntary response polls currently appeared on the internet? I looked at the following sites: Fox News, ABC News, CBC News, CNN News, and NBC News. I was surprised to see that only NBC had a voluntary response poll on its site. The question was "Do you support President Bush's handling of Iraq?" The possible responses were yes, no, and not sure. To see the results, you had to vote. So I clicked. To that point, 83% had voted no, 14% had voted yes, and 2% had voted not sure. Strongly skewed! I don't know if the results were mentioned on NBC or MSNBC television but if they were, this would be a error in reporting. (It must be said that NBC issued a disclaimer that the poll was not scientific).

My concern is how the results of such polls are reported. If wrongly reported, the consequences could be negative.

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