Can I Trust the Polls?

October 5, 2000

Can I trust the polls? Are they accurate? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the question. Are the polls statistically accurate? Yes, as I talked about yesterday, the statistical basis of most of the major polling organizations is statistically accurate. But the answer may be no depending on who was surveyed and what question was asked. That is why you have to be skeptical when you view a poll.

Let me explain. Polling organizations work tirelessly to make sure their poll accurately reflects the demographic profile of all Americans. But when you are asking political questions, that poll can be almost meaningless because the political process is driven by voters, not by all Americans. Consider that in some primaries less than 20% of eligible voters bother to cast ballots.

This smaller group of Americans drives the electoral process and views political issues differently. For example, two years ago when Americans were asked whether President Clinton should resign from office, those likely to vote in November answered yes almost twice as much as those who were unlikely to vote. And Congress was hearing from these motivated voters about the current impeachment inquiry. These motivated voters had a disproportionate influence on the election and the political process.

But also be aware of the question. A few years ago a caller to my talk show said she was polled. The question was: "In light of the fact that the Kenneth Starr investigation has cost nearly $40 million dollars and taken nearly 4 years are you ready for the investigation to end?" In trying to give information, I believe the polling firm biased the answer. And when she said that she thought that President Clinton should tell the truth, they put her answer down as "no opinion."

Are polls accurate? Yes, they are statistically accurate. But that doesn't mean they always accurately reflect the opinions of the American people.

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