Pendulum Polls: Part Two

October 12, 2000

Yesterday we talked about the phenomenon of pendulum polls. Are these unprecedented swings in the polls reflective of a volatile electorate? I don't think so. Yesterday we talked about one reason for the changing poll numbers: people are refusing to answer public opinion polls. Today I would like to look at three more reasons.

First, too few people are surveyed in some polls. Last month, Newsweek published a poll showing Al Gore leading by 14 points. Soon it was being ridiculed by many pollsters. It turns out that the poll only surveyed 580 likely voters over two nights. One of those nights was a Friday, when pollsters say more Democrats are likely to be home.

Second, pollsters are pressuring the people they survey. Have you noticed that the number of undecideds is often very small in many of the polls? There's a reason for that. In the past, if some gave an "I don't know" answer, it was listed as such. Now there is a push to find out which way voters are leaning. If someone was impressed by the latest interview on Oprah or Larry King, he or she will reluctantly "lean" toward a candidate. But a few days later that same person might "lean" in a different direction. What the poll doesn't tell you is that person may not even vote in November, which leads to the third point.

Pollsters aren't always talking to likely voters. Even though lots of pollsters say they are surveying likely voters, that isn't always the case. Most people will say they are likely voters. After all, who wants to admit they don't vote? Often it takes follow-up questions to determine if the person you are surveying is really likely to vote in November. So the next time you hear about a poll consider some of these important points.

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