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What Polls tell us about Elections and Election Coverage

March 10, 2010

On today’s front page of the Grand Rapids Press there appears a story based upon a new poll for the Michigan Governor’s race. Polls are used by news agencies and sometimes paid for by news agencies with the hopes that the poll results will generate news consumers.

However, polls are not very scientific, they tend to reflect a superficial representation of candidates and support the notion that it is all about name recognition. A look at the Press article illustrates for us why polls are problematic.

First, the article states early on that Republican candidates Pete Hoekstra and Rick Snyder were the two front-runners in the GOP race for Governor because Synder has spent a great deal of money on paid political ads and Hoekstra gets free airtime as the Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee.

The Press article then quotes a staff person with Public Sector Consultants who responds to Snyder’s poll numbers, “his numbers are going to go up. The first goal is name recognition. It’s moved his name recognition up from almost zero. Advertising does that for you.” Therefore, polls reflect name recognition based on who is spending money on paid ads.

Second, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox’s numbers were down in the poll and his campaign said they had issues with the business that conducted the poll claiming it worked for House Speaker Andy Dillon, who is also a candidate for Governor. The Rossman Group denied that they worked for Dillon. However, the Press notes that the Rossman Group had hired Denno-Noor Research to conduct the poll. In looking at a list of who some of their clients have been the agency has worked for Democratic candidates and one of the co-founders has been active in campaigning for Democratic candidates in Michigan. Therefore, polling is often inherently biased because it is hired by or has partisan affiliation.

The remainder on the story just provides other poll data and a few comments from some of the campaign staff. One thing that is missing from this story and is generally missing from poll-driven news coverage is where candidates stand on issues.

Unfortunately, this type of coverage in not likely to change, but we plan to continue to monitor the Governor’s race and other races for the 2010 Election.

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