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Opinion Poll Madness!

It’s no secret that opinion polls get a little out of control around political elections. Sure – depending on who publishes the poll, the accuracy of the sample, and the questions used, poll results can be all over the place. But there seems to be an information effect on polls as well. We saw one such effect arise in problem set 5 (question 7), which showed a huge difference in poll results once votes were publicized in real time; options that already had a lot of votes tended to get even more, as is often the case with anything popular. After all, voting for an unpopular option might lead to a “wasted” vote. Are poll results and media coverage causing an information cascade?

In the past few weeks, the front-runner in the endless stream of GOP debates has changed several times. Following a flurry of transitions between Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, and Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich is pegged as the current leader, though he seemed to be all but out of the race until recently. Have things really been that dynamic in the debates that we should expect the front-runner to change on a weekly basis? Or is some other force at work? This article sheds some light on the political factors that might be at play here – I agree that with such a wide field of candidates and no obvious heir to the GOP throne, we should expect a more dynamic debate than usual.

But what about the fact that there have been so many debates, all televised, and all receiving a fair amount of media coverage, and the frequent polls measuring the candidates’ performance? Governor Perry’s blunders easily ring out as some of the most important news stories of the day. Even a pizza mogul’s tax plan has no trouble making its way into the international media, and perhaps even bringing him into the #1 spot in the polls. I think the frequency of the debates, the huge media buzz surrounding each one, and ultimately the polls themselves, seem to skew public opinion so drastically that the front-runner one week may be trailing far behind just a week later.

So what are opinion polls really doing? Do they measure what people think, or are they shaping our thoughts themselves?


One Response to “ Opinion Poll Madness! ”

  • Upholstery Cleaning

    A lecturer on Statistics once shared in front of our small audeince and under the condition that “we haven’t heard it form him” that polls actually show favourable results to the political party or company who is actually ordering them.

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