Pendulum Polls

October 11, 2000

Are you getting sick from being jerked around by wildly swinging poll numbers? I know many people are.

The polls said that George W. Bush led by 17 points before the Republican Convention. Then Al Gore was supposedly surging after the Democratic Convention. Then a Newsweek poll in September had Gore ahead by 14 points. Then another poll had them even just before the debates.

Are these unprecedented swings in the polls reflective of a volatile electorate? I don't think so. Certainly there have been a number of undecided voters this year in what promises to be a very close election. But I don't believe these wildly swinging poll number reflect true voter swings. Then how do we explain these poll swings? For the next two days I would like to answer that question.

First, people are refusing to answer public opinion polls. Fifteen years ago, anywhere from 65 percent to 75 percent of the people called by pollsters would answer their questions. Now some estimate that number is less than half. Some pollsters admit that the response rate may be as low as 35 percent. Why the dramatic decrease?

Many pollsters believe that the reason so many people are refusing to answer polls is due to something we talked about last week: suging and fruging. "Suging" is pollsterese for "soliciting under the guise of surveying." And "fruging" means "fund raising under the guise of surveying." They are the favorite strategies of telemarketers, and they are having a decided impact on public opinion polls. Apparently many Americans are merely using their answering machines or caller ID to screen calls.

This is one reason for the pendulum polls. Tomorrow we will look at three more. In the meantime, don't believe every poll you hear.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.