What about those political polls?
Are they worthless? Can they predict the election outcome? Why are the results of this year’s election not like the outcome as the polls were showing before the election tallies?
This same scenario happened in 2016 – the polls pre-election said one thing and the actual voting came out differently – what is going on?
Well, to begin with – you have to consider what a poll is and is not.
A poll, done right, is simply a measure of the present time. It is a record of who they were talking to at the time that they were talking to them. That’s it. Nothing else.
Imagine taking your temperature today at noon. Now, does that have any predictive value?
Well, it might. You could say that IF nothing significantly changes for you then your temperature at noon will be a prediction of your temperature for 6 pm that same day. However, does that tell you anything about your temperature at noon the next day? Or noon the next week? The next month?
You should by now be getting the idea.
A poll, just like taking your temperature, is only telling you accurately about the present and only is useful to predict the future in a short window of time and it is only useful IF nothing significant changes.
Change and the possibility of change is one of the keys for the failure of prediction.
A poll could get it right…for the population that it did poll. But, it won’t tell you much about the people who didn’t respond to the poll. They are significant because you have to ask who were they and why didn’t they respond? As well as ask who did respond and why did they?
The poll only tells you who responded and what they were thinking at that moment in time. It’s predictive value dimensions over time – since people have free will! They can change their minds and make new decisions.
That’s a good thing. People are not Newtonian billiard balls. 100% determinism is not possible with people – they can change and make changes over time.
A poll is a useful tool if you understand what it is.
It tells you that x group of people, within that specific demographic of people who did respond, how they were willing to tell a pollster about their thinking at that moment in time. That’s all it can tell you. It may, assuming it was done as accurately as possible, tell you accurately about that moment in time for that specific group of people.
It is useful if you want to reach that group of people and persuade them. If the poll is going your candidate’s way, then what you are doing in reaching them is working. If the poll is not going your candidate’s way, then what you are doing is not working and guess what? You had better do something differently! That change that you make on behalf of the candidate will not invalidate that poll. Since the poll’s accuracy was in the past. It doesn’t guarantee any future event. You can hope it will convince those people to choose for your candidate. The only way you can tell if it is working is… with another poll! That is the actual use of a poll.
Casting your ballot is the ultimate and the final poll! It is a measure of what you were thinking and feeling at the time you cast that ballot. Casting and counting those votes is just like taking a huge poll! It accurately measures the people who voted. It doesn’t measure much of anything about all the people who didn’t vote. So even the election results are a sample poll of only the opinion of those who voted on the day they voted.
You must have heard of the idea of ‘buyer’s remorse’, right? Tell me, have you ever cast your vote and then regretted that decision months or years later? See, even your own vote doesn’t predicate with 100% accuracy how you will think and feel years later.
A poll is an act of taking the temperature of a specific demographic group at a specific moment in time.
It has little value to tell you the outcome for even that exact group of people in the first poll about their decision tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Things don’t stay the same – things change and thus people can change. The good news is – they have free will and they do indeed utilize that free will. Even if you don’t like it or don’t think they do. If you don’t plan on their ability to change and choose – the mistake is yours and not theirs.
So, polls give you a rough idea of a very specific demographic’s temperature at the time of the taking of the poll. If you use it to judge the future outcome of an event months later, well then, the fault is with you. Not the poll.
Remember your temperature today doesn’t tell you much about what your temperature will be in three months.
Gary Jaron's musings.
In my High School Art Department someone had made an ornate sign on hung it on the wall that read: 'Ignore this sign completely.' A paradox couched in sarcasm and irony. This blog is for random musings on anything and everything that comes into my head.