Editorial

I’m not sure I trust the polls to be accurate any more

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.

I received a phone call Sunday afternoon from a representative from EPIC-MRA about the Wayland Union Schools millage request in August.

As promised.

The Wayland Board of Education and administration have been working on a bond for a new swimming pool, a new roof at the middle school and remodeling for the industrial arts and music rooms at the high school. The price tag is expected to be around $38 million, about $17 million less than the proposal that bombed big time about five years ago.

Though they face an uphill climb, officials are cautiously optimistic they can make this happen because of the success they had with the millage in 2017 for a middle school addition, new tennis courts and new turf for the football and track stadium. They got it done with less cost than anticipated.

But while talking to a pollster, I couldn’t avoid wondering whether polls have outlived their usefulness in predicting successes and failures.

Though so many in broadcast and print media and politicians put a lot of stock in polls, I’ve seen a crack in their armor over the last five years.

Polls as well done as 538.com got blindsided by Donald Trump’s triumph in 2016 over Hillary Clinton. They also missed the mark in U.S. Senate races in Maine and South Carolina in 2020 and their visions of Democratic landslides in 2018 and 2020 did not materialize.

Though the EPIC MRA poll I encountered over the phone was reasonably professionally done, I still have serious reservations raised a year ago by the Townbroadcast contributor who goes by the handle of “Couchman.”

The man with the nom de plume pointed out that the polling industry needs to do better (and make adjustments) to remain relevant.

“The first major change has been the explosion of cell phones. In 2000 there were 109.5 million in 2008, that jumped to 261 million in 2016 there were 396 million, and this year its over 405 million.

“Along with that growth have been changes in FCC rules that allow you to take your phone number with you. That means you can have a Chicago 312 area code phone, take a job and move to Texas with your 312 area code, job takes you from Texas to Columbus OH and then retirement in North Carolina and you still have that 312 area code and phone number.

“Imagine that scenario a million times over. Hard to use random phone number polling when you have few clues to where that phone number and owner are physically. It’s a far cry from back in the good old days when pollsters had a very powerful (and free) tool called the White Pages of your phonebook.”

Furthermore, along with the aforementioned cell phone data, ATT and other major phone companies wanted to get out of the traditional phone business raising prices to the point where “customers switched to cell phones or got an alternative like the phone service Spectrum or Comcast. If you own a cell phone(s) for your family member(s), get a call from a number you don’t recognize most people let it go to voice mail.

“If no message is left or its a sales pitch or pollster (who rarely leave messages), the vast majority of people simply call block that number. The phone companies and cable companies now offer free services to block calls and many handsets sold for home use allow call blocking.

“Again, you can’t poll people you can’t talk to. Much tougher job than it was two decades ago.”

When I saw the movie “Farenheit 11/9,” Michael Moore ended the film with a long list of progressive issues, such as Medicare for All, marijuana legalization and climate change, that indicated widespread polling support nationwide.

Interestingly, just as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, a Fox News poll Jan. 21 showed 63 percent want the law to stand.

Yet lawmakers refuse to do the supposed will of the people and continue to push for making abortion illegal again. Perhaps it’s because those who oppose abortion speak louder than the Pro-Choice crowd and perhaps the big money is behind the Pro-Life movement.

So it was with more than a bit of caution that I answered the pollster’s questions Sunday, and I wondered if polling actually matters any more, particularly when those who conduct them haven’t been keeping with the times.

Couchman ended his commentary with: “All votes need to be counted in representative democracies. Democracy no longer being an objective makes sense if our county’s future is based on one political party’s definitions of liberty, peace and prosperity.

“Why vote if democracy isn’t an objective?”

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