The end of polls?

Like everything the internet touches, and not always for the better, polling seems to be going the way of the buggy whip.  According to Politico:

The percentage of Americans willing to participate in telephone polls has hit a new low, according to a new report, raising doubts about the continued viability of the phone surveys that have traditionally dominated politics and elections, both in the media and in campaigns.

The Pew Research Center reported Wednesday that the response rate for its phone polls last year fell to just 6 percent — meaning pollsters could only complete interviews with 6 percent of the households in their samples.  It continues the long-term decline in response rates, which had leveled off earlier this decade.

That's likely to have implications for coming elections if there is no such thing as reliable polls anymore.  And it's a great shame for reputable polling companies such as Pew Research, which often brings to light interesting and unexpected information to the public fore based on its thorough polling.  Pew is a big company, and it's having trouble, so one can only fear the impact this trend might be having on smaller reputable companies, such as IBD/TIPP, which has an ace track record for calling elections correctly.  One wonders if the era of good polls is over.

Politico speculates that this may be the result of cell phone usage, caller ID, and marketing companies calling at all hours, which is likely true enough.  The fact that Americans aren't answering their phones at all these days, landline or cell, certainly buttresses this trend.

But I think there are other factors, political ones, that a website with a name like Politico shouldn't shrink from.

One, there's the presence of push polls, the manipulated questions driven by some buyers of polls, that are set to create a certain outcome.  Democratic operatives seem to have stepped up the use of these to market the idea that Americans are for things they aren't for — open borders, a Green New Deal, or nationalized health care billed as "free."  The proliferation of this kind of dishonest polling practice pretty well turns off many would-be answerers of polls from answering any polls at all.  Push polling has been around, but it seems to be getting more frequent, what with the mainstream media making themselves the Democratic Party's operative ally.  The fact that some pollsters seem to be joining in the effort themselves, as American Thinker contributor Bruce Walker argues, lowers pollster credibility among respondents even more.

Two, there's something even more nefarious: data-mining. Facebook does it, and now a lot of groups are doing it — collecting information that pollsters would need and selling it to unknown buyers for a profit.  Most people aren't all in for that, yet there seems to be a proliferation of companies that call themselves pollsters yet seem to be nothing but data-mining operations.  A few months ago, I was called by one of these purported pollsters, a group that said its entire mission is idealistic and nonpartisan (a red flag) and it wanted to poll me repeatedly.  I said OK and got a series of personal questions that were just the kind of thing data-miners collect and sell.  The name of this Utah-based purported pollster escapes me, and my Googling was futile, but after I looked at their website, which was full of pabulum and no evidence of polling, and then found a few bulletin boards with respondents complaining that the whole thing looked like a data-monitoring operation, I quit picking up.  The thing is, any answer given to a purported pollster these days can always be utilized in a data-mining operation for commercial purposes.  Facebook and other internet operations (I'm looking at you, Google, Apple, Yahoo!, etc.) are frequently caught doing this, and the annoying thing is, they are caught lying.  I don't mind honest data-mining with consent, but the after-the-fact record of lying about it makes it all a different ballgame.  Plenty of people are more than a little likely to be wary of all pollsters in the wake of these continuous scandals.

Here's a third factor.  Not only is cell phone only usage making polling that much more difficult, something crappy is happening on the political side, too: the rise of ballot-harvesting, which is practiced openly in California.  Polls are useless in any election with ballot-harvesting, where Democratic operatives (who are often foreign nationals) go to the homes of indifferent voters who didn't plan to vote in the election, "help" them fill out their blank ballots, and then collect those ballots and turn them (or perhaps just the ones they like) in to a vote-counting station.  Of what use would a poll of likely voters be against that kind of a setup?  And the fact that there's same-day registration in a lot of places pretty well erases even the value of registered voters as poll fodder.  The only poll that matters under these circumstances is the running count on election day, which signals to the vote-harvesters how many more votes from indifferent, and even unregistered voters are going to be needed to make the total the way they want the total to go before they stop.  That's another blow to the value of polling, and would explain a lot about why potential poll-ees are opting out.

What the decline in polling, with precipitously falling participation rates, and the increased likelihood in errors, shows is that a whole lot is very wrong with our political system in the Mark Zuckerberg era.  No polls is a bad thing, incidentally, in that it creates a Petri dish for even bigger electoral frauds.  This is why I hope these trends can be reversed.  That, sadly, looks a long way away.

Image credit: GoDigital via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.