Letter: Accurate Or Distorted Polling?

— To the Editor:

In last week's Gazette, Adrienne G. Cannon's letter was published in which she said, concerning the Westgrove Park off-leash dog area issue: "Repeated letters from one person attacking individuals and offering misleading facts does not help readers understand the public policy issues at stake." This reader would appreciate Ms. Cannon enlightening us as to exactly which facts have been misleading. Of course, in so doing, Ms. Cannon should provide the documentation for her assertion.

Now on to a more pressing issue. The biggest scandal in American politics is the use of polls to try to influence the electorate. A poll is supposed to be a snapshot of public opinion at any given moment. However, pollsters can manipulate the data to make it come out any way they like. This tactic is most often used in an attempt to influence Presidential elections by discouraging the supporters of one candidate while simultaneously encouraging the supporters of the other.

Pollsters collect raw data by randomly contacting people and asking them a series of questions. People are asked who they favor in an upcoming election, the likelihood that they'll vote and their party affiliation. Some polls only ask if participants are registered voters without regard to whether they are likely to vote.

The raw data received is invariably skewed with respect to the actual ratio between Democrats, Republicans and independents. That ratio is well-established by polling conducted independently of any election poll. Thus, in order to turn the raw data into a poll, it must be normalized to conform with the known ratio.

This is where dishonest pollsters cheat. They skew the raw data by weighting it more toward the party of the candidate they favor. For example, if the known ratio is 37 percent Democrats, 37 percent Republicans and 26 percent independents (the actual ratio in 2004), a dishonest pollster can make it appear the poll is favoring one candidate by refraining from conforming the poll to the known ratio. This is what a recent CNN poll did to advocate for President Obama. The present ratio is not much different than that of 2004. CNN reported a poll it took after the recent Democratic National Convention in which it claimed President Obama was leading Mitt Romney among likely voters 52 percent to 46 percent. However, examination of the raw data revealed CNN used the ratio 50-45-5. Not surprisingly, since Romney leads among independents by 14 percent, reducing their percentage from 26 percent to 5 percent naturally depresses Romney's "support." After seeing this, who would ever believe a CNN poll again?

The only poll that has proven to be neutral, unbiased and accurate over a lengthy period is the Rasmussen 3 day rolling poll of likely voters. On Wednesday this week, that poll has Romney leading Obama 47-46 among likely voters. It can be found at the following link: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/obama_administration/daily_presidential_tracking_poll Rasmussen correctly predicted President Obama's victory in 2008 and the vote percentages to within less than 1 percent. I consider other polls to be agenda-driven and not worthy of consideration. Perhaps laws should be enacted requiring pollsters to publish the raw data and ratios used in any published poll. That way, the public will be in a better position to judge their credibility, including whether the poll is an accurate snapshot or an intentional distortion.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon