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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Polls, crystal balls have lot in common

Friday, December 20, 2002

Of 159 public polls taken the final days before the November elections, 22 predicted wrong winners.

The political season is behind us and now the analysis begins. Well actually the analysis began the day following the November elections. But today a study was released that judged the polls taken before the elections to gauge their accuracy.

I have long been apathetic about political polls because I question their accuracy and their method of polling. But I also believe that polls themselves often drive a political race in one direction or another so I find their results to be interesting.

Of 159 public polls taken the final days before the November elections, 22 predicted wrong winners. Now on the surface, that might look like some fairly good results. But I think not. If you factor out the polls where the winners were obvious, the polls results drop dramatically.

The much-touted Zogby International's poll, for example, picked five losers out of only 17 national polls. That means Zogby called the wrong results in about a third of the expensive polls they conducted. Zogby was the partner with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in polling for the Senate race in Missouri.

Polls are often conducted by special interest groups with a predetermined result. I believe that to be true. And increasingly, voters eye polls warily because they believe they sway opinion and results in some cases. And finally, though statisticians will surely disagree, I question the accuracy of a polls of 1,000 voters out of a 2 million voter base.

Polling voter sentiment has become a part of the political landscape in this nation. It's big business by any definition. But when the races are razor-thin, the polls aren't too accurate. That's why they should be taken with a grain of salt.

The National Council of Public Polls is promoting the results in their study released today. But like the polls themselves, you have to look beyond the headlines to find the real facts. And when examined closely, polls and crystal balls have a lot in common. And an accuracy rate about the same.

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