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HORIST: Can you trust the polls?

HORIST: Can you trust the polls?

The one thing you have to understand about polls is that they create a false reality.  You would not know that because they are used – or more accurately, misused — by the media as accurate indicators of public opinion.  They are far from it.  The only empirical fact is that someone asked those questions to a number of people and got those results.  That’s it.

For sure, they can approximate reality, but the deviation from reality is often more important than the polling numbers themselves.

The lack of precision explains why different polls can have such dramatically different results.  And then there are the other three pitfalls of polling – what questions are asked, how they are framed and how they are interpreted (reported).

Pollsters have biases, so many polls are designed to get certain results.  For example, a recent Pew Research Center (which leans left) showed that approximately 60 percent of Americans oppose “expanding the wall across the entire Mexican-American border.”  That figure was widely embraced by the left-wing media as indicating strong opposition to President Trump’s proposal.

It is the word “entire” that drives the largely uninformative result.  It is amazing that even 40 percent thought it should be, but they are driven by a visceral hardcore reaction by Trump supporters – and maybe even a lack of knowledge as to the real options.  Outside of early campaign language, Trump has never proposed a solid wall across the entire border.  That is a straw man that Democrats and the press  uses to sound more credible themselves.  Pew played into that strategy in crafting the polling question.

What if the question was: “President Trump has proposed a plan to protect the border by using walls or fences in some location, natural barriers where they exist and increased use of technology and personnel in other locations?”  That would get a response to the real proposal, not a driven response to a straw man question.  The positive results would be far different.

The crafting of the question is a form of what is known as a “push poll,” where questions are crafted to get politically desired results or to influence the person being polled.  I often refer to these as “if questions.”  Whenever you see a poll question beginning with “if,” you can be pretty well assured that it is being crafted to force a certain result.

For example, “If President Trump’s wall would stop illegal aliens and drugs from entering the United States, would you support it?”  Such a question is almost guaranteed to elicit a high percentage favorable response.  You would get a reportable result that would be used – or not used – by the media consistent with the individual media’s own agenda – but nothing that accurately reflects the real public sentiment on the broader issue and nothing truly informative.  Just more meaningless fodder for the preconceived news media narratives.  Such polls produce a false credibility for the political propaganda merchants and their false narratives.

Many times, the most important information that can be garnered relies on questions that political partisans and many pollsters simply refuse to ask – and if asked, rarely report.  A very important question to political strategists and pundits is, “Do you believe Democrats should provide all or most of President Trump’s $5.7 billion border funding  and gain protection for DACA Dreamers and those on protective status in order to end the government shutdown?”  That would likely get a fairly high positive response.  Trump and the Republicans know this, despite the reported polls, and that is why they believe they can hold out and let pressure mount on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress.

How the media uses polling is also a major problem for those who want to be fully informed.  The anti-Trump press uses two figures to keep pounding on Republicans.  The percentage of people who “blame” Trump for the shutdown and the reported drop in Trump popularity ratings in SOME polls – the ones they will promote on air. Polls that do not fit the anti-Trump, anti-Republican, anti-conservative narratives of the elitist east coast media are simply ignored.  But the can occasionally be found in the less biased media.

SOME polls show a surprising consistency in Trump’s overall popularity rating despite the shutdown and the unprecedented negative spin in the news coverage.  And then there are those that look at the Congress and the media.  In terms of the Congress, both Republicans and Democrats are underwater in terms of public popularity.  Despite the media reports, Trump is about as popular and unpopular as the members of Congress – both sides of the aisle.  About 60 percent blame Trump and congressional Republicans and about 55 percent blame congressional Democrats.  While the Democrats appear to have a slight advantage, it is politically insignificant – especially given the polling’s standard margins of error.

Professional analysts and pundits also take timing into consideration.  They know that today’s reality – and today’s polling numbers – will have no meaning in the future.  Right now, we have almost two years to the next election.  By then the government shutdown will be over, and there will be a whole new reality and all new polling numbers – for whatever they may be worth.

The professionals also realize that if Trump prevails and gets his wall funding, his popularity will rise, and the Democrats will be left in political disarray – with the radical left pouncing on their own leadership more than they are now.  (Why did Alexandria Ocasa-Cortez suddenly come to mind?)

Polls are just part of the Kabuki Theater of politics.  Part of the mendacious scripts and narratives that form the public debate apart from empirical realities.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Philip Simon

    Polls, what fake news polls, who is first , who is second and who is on third, who knows but the Pussy cats meow running for the cat food in the bowl, yhe nomination for the most beautiful nuisance mouth blabbering hisses they are.

  2. steff

    I totally agree with your comments. I used to respond to polls decades ago back when there was some semblance of honesty in them. Then I began to get questions that were akin to a trap such as “Do you support so-so even though he is close to a criminal indictment?” This is not intended to be humorous. The pollsters manipulate wording so that there is not honest way of answering. At first I argued and hung up while wondering if they added their own response. After that I just hung up again wondering if they added their own response. Then I found that the people in areas that were heavily biased for one candidate or idea. The old adage that figures don’t lie, but liars figure rings true concerning polls so I don’t pay them much mind. They are rapid and used only in an attempt to manipulate the people.

  3. Dominic

    At this time in our country, you can’t trust or believe any poll, regardless of its source.

  4. JAMES

    don’t trust polls or any NEWS REPORTS

  5. Old Sarge

    I don’t personally pay too much attention to polls. They can all be manipulated. Put the right questions with the right wording to the right audience and you can get the desired results. All the politicians know this. Don’t forget that in 2016, right up to election day, the polls were predicting a Hillary 90% certainty of a landslide victory over Trump.

  6. Al Barrs

    NO! Polls or what we once called “surveys”, of which I have done many as an administrator of several colleges and universities and a training design professional, are nothing more than Political Propaganda Tools designed in ways to steal votes and elections… No so called poll is to be trusted. Politicians have their on survey directors and do more accurate and true polls for their candidate employer which average citizens never see the results. The polls citizens see on TV and read in newspapers and and news magazines are perverted attempts at creating a desired belief and action, most often nothing but lies and perverted analysis to serve their political pursuits… DON’T BELIEVE POLLS is the best most credible action citizens can pursue…do your own research these days because at least half of the people in politics are corrupt, self-serving and out to get rich off we citizen’s tax dollars…

  7. Pat

    I would love to reply on this. This site will jot let me