Musings on Pollsters: Confessions of a Former Gallup Study Director…(Updated 2X)

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I’m SO HAPPY (snark) to report that the Zogby Interactive Survey has now re-appeared in my inbox! I am always curious about what’s being surveyed and how, because I have a “pollster past.” Over the last few months, they had mysteriously disappeared. But now, with Obama the presumtive nominee, the folks at Zogby have decided to pay attention to me again. Perhaps they didn’t bother with me for months because I was one of those older women who weren’t coveted for their sampling.

Of course, “Interactive Phone Surveys” are subject to a big dose of suspicion. Signing up to participate is open to anyone and is ongoing. Zogby picks respondents from this pool. A few times before the primaries began I was contacted and occasionally told I wasn’t suitable for the survey after being asked a few screening questions. This is a normal part of polling as clients sometimes need to focus on certain demographics. Which is why I noticed when at the height of primary season I wasn’t getting polled anymore. Was it my age, sex, and the fact that I sometimes had answered that I was a moderate instead of a progressive or liberal? I never knew exactly how to answer that question because the terms were not defined as part of the question.

And therein lies one of the flaws of polling, whether respondent selection is deliberately skewed or not. Or, if a poll is online or even a supposedly “more reliable” telephone poll. If questions are poorly worded, unclear, or leave a lot of leeway for interpretation by the respondent, how accurate can the poll be?

Another problem area that I’ve found with Zogby’s Interactive Survey is the omission of questions that related to a respondent’s experience with market research. Some polls ask right at the beginning whether a respondent has ever worked in a particular industry to eliminate any bias which might impact a particular client’s survey. Many pollsters ask right upfront if a respondent has ever worked in the market research field. Every time I receive a Zogby poll I’m interested in seeing if they ask if I, as a respondent, have ever worked in market research. Even though I left the field ages ago, I still know a few tricks of the trade and can see where a survey is going and can guess what type of client is polling and what emphasis they are looking for in the result.

So, am I capable of skewing a poll beyond just answering questions with choices that don’t really reflect my opinion? Sure I am. Especially when the interactive poll like Zogby’s allows you to go back and change answers once you’ve guessed who’s polling or the type of responses the poll is fishing for (and even allows the poll to be copied)! [I’ve done it for another piece I wrote on a related topic. I literally copied and saved the survey for later reference…see Pundits, Pollsters and Should We Be Getting Ready for the Next Play of the Race Card? (Clues in the latest Zogby survey I received?) (Updated 1X)]

Do I do this? Not deliberately. But if there’s poorly worded question or a questions whose answers don’t allow me to REALLY GIVE my opinion, then I’m in the same box every respondent to that poll is in…trying to do an honest job, but being led along by the pollster. Continue reading