February 6, 2023

My Poll's Better Than Your Poll

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Just yesterday, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries announced the results of their survey of hunters concerning Sunday hunting. You can find all that information in the article I wrote yesterday. Not to be outdone by the VDGIF, SurveyUSA conducted a “scientific” poll testing the waters of the general public about Sunday hunting.

If I’ve learned nothing else from polls in my scant 54 years of life on earth, I will go to my grave knowing that the results of a poll are identical to that of a baseball referee’s calling of balls and strikes. What ever the call is that is made by the umpire, half agree and half don’t. Yeah, I know, oversimplification but I’m a simple man. The half that agree do so because that’s what they wanted the call to be. Need I explain the other half? There are equal numbers of disagreers on both sides that will disagree for the sake of disagreeing, so it’s really a wash.

For the real manipulators of calls, we hear such things coming from the observers of a ball game, “Man, that was close. It could have gone either way”. This leaves open some room for debate and also will make for better discussion at the coffee shop the next morning.

Polls work the same way. If a poll tells me what I want to hear, it’s a good call. If I get called out on strikes, the umpire’s an idiot – in this case the pollster. Are you following me here? If I need to clarify myself, then okay.

While sitting at the local Greasy Spoon, I add my sugar and take my first sip of morning coffee, “Did you see the results of that Sunday hunting poll conducted by the VDGIF, Fred?”

“Ayuh, Did”, says Fred. “Stupid poll anyway. They don’t know nothin about deeyah huntin and besides, all them polls is rigged!”

“Well, ya know Fred,” says Marvin. “I think Sunday hunting’s a good idea. Been wantin to do it my whole life. I heard that poll was the most accurate one ever done. It was scientific.”

Do you get it now? Ok, Ok! Fred doesn’t support Sunday hunting, so he thinks because the VDGIF poll shows hunters support Sunday hunting the poll is flawed and vise versa for Marvin. This isn’t that far from the truth and it’s not just the people sitting in the Dew Drop Inn that think this way. We all do it, including the media – yes, that includes me.

In all fairness, yesterday I explained that the VDGIF poll only included hunters and that before they would consider any proposed legislation about Sunday hunting they would listen to what all the citizens of Virginia had to say. Enter the SurveyUSA poll.

Today, SurveyUSA announces the results of their poll pointing out that it is scientific. I don’t want to say that they are implying that the VDGIF’s poll wasn’t scientific, just that their’s is. By the way, what is a scientific poll and how do we know it is a scientific study? Does this mean the results are any better than me walking out on the streets and asking people what they think? It’s supposed to be because THEY tell us it is – THEY being the scientific ones.

We all know that polls can and are unscientific because the scientific ones can use leading, misleading, confusing, incomplete and a host of other kinds of questions in order to achieve the results they want. Before you go getting your dander up, hear what I have to say.

If I make a living conducting polls and I get hired by, oh let’s say, Bill Gates to conduct a survey. Bill calls me up (what I can’t have my dreams?) and says, “Tom! I need a survey. I want to know if people prefer me driving an SUV or a “green” car.” If I want to get paid for my efforts, I’m going to make sure that I get the right responses. In other words those calls by the umpire that could have gone either way? They will all go in favor of Bill Gates.

So here I am now a writer for a blog about hunting. One would assume because I am an avid hunter and work diligently to promote hunting, I would be in favor of Sunday hunting. You might be right and you might be wrong. It doesn’t matter. But let’s say for the sake of coffee talk, I’m opposed to Sunday hunting. I can take the results of the VDGIF poll and make it sound more in keeping with my philosophies about Sunday hunting.

Let’s look at some of those results.

The 2006 hunter survey results indicated that 62% of responding hunters expressed some level of support for Sunday hunting compared to 34% who were opposed. Of the 62% supporting Sunday hunting, 53% were strongly supportive. Of the 34% who opposed Sunday hunting, 28.5% were strongly opposed.

As a writer opposed to Sunday hunting, I can do a report and state that hunters are still pretty evenly split over the Sunday hunting issue. To prove that, I’ll state that the VDGIF poll showed that 53% supported Sunday hunting and 34% were against it. But how can I say that, you might ask? Because I can! I know that most readers aren’t going to research for themselves what I tell them. They will take my word for it. It’s in writing, therefore it must be true.

Viewing this poll the same way, I can easily convince readers that there is really not much difference between 53% and 34%. An intelligent and informed reader will see that is not what the poll said but the majority will not question it.

On the flip side of the discussion, a sponsor of Sunday hunting will say that 62% of hunters favor Sunday hunting and only a mere 28.5% really opposed the event. What’s wrong with that? It’s my interpretation of the poll results.

I think now you get my point. So to muddy the waters of poll results, SurveyUSA announced their results. The very first online location that I read the results happened to be, Virginia’s News7. Here’s what they wrote.

A new statewide poll shows that a majority of Virginians (61%) oppose changing the law to allow hunting on Sundays. A third of the respondents (34%) said hunting should be allowed on Sundays.

Alright, I’ll have to take their word for it because I don’t know what the questions are they asked or anything else about the poll, only what News7 gives me to this point. Here’s the interesting part which includes what I just finished explaining to you about results manipulation or more softly put, their interpretation of the poll.

The poll shows a majority of those identifying themselves as hunters (53%) opposed Sunday hunting (See Survey Details.) This differs from the results of a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries survey, which was mailed to a random sample licensed Virginia hunters in November. In the DGIF Survey, a majority of hunters (53%) favored hunting on Sunday.

So why did the writer of this article choose to say only 53% of hunters favored Sunday hunting, when the VDGIF polls says that 62% of hunters favored some level of Sunday hunting? The writer could also have chosen different wording to describe the VDGIF survey but didn’t. I’m not implying that the writer is biased one way or the other, I’m only making observations. We writers choose our words carefully sometimes to let our biases come through. I bet you didn’t know that.

As a good writer should, here’s the link to see the details of the SurveyUSA poll. Will you go look for yourself? Ummm……..Maybe!

So when you land at the coffee shop tomorrow morning, you now have material that you can use in your discussions. For you either the polls are right on or they are flawed, biased and unreliable. Are you one who will never trust a poll or will you use it if it looks good and can work toward your advantage? Maybe you are one who puts a lot of stock in polls and maybe all baseball umpires an unbiased in how they call balls and strikes.

Regardless, I’ll be willing to wager that I can find a poll that’s better than your poll.

Tom Remington