The phone’s been ringing a lot lately, and often what I hear when I pick it up is a voice saying, “Hello. We’re conducting a poll, and we’d like to ask you some questions.”

My response is always immediate, voluntary and heartfelt: I hang up.

It’s not that I don’t like people who take polls (though I do have a cartoon in my clip files of a woman who, seeing tiny men in business suits with briefcases all over her kitchen, screams out to her husband, “Harold! We’ve got pollsters!”

And it’s not that I don’t think polls are valuable — although they are just starting to get to the point where they might be telling us something useful about the presidential race.

Instead, I simply value my privacy. Who I’m going to vote for is my own business and no one else’s (though ballot questions are fair game for comment — but I won’t discuss either individuals or issues on the telephone with strangers).

Interestingly, an article published on Tuesday by The Hill, a publication that reports on Washington-centered political issues, said that a recent poll has found that “a plurality of Americans and more than seven in 10 Republicans say pollsters are intentionally skewing results to benefit President Obama.”


If it is accurate, that finding may turn out to have an impact on whether polls are correct about public opinion in general. Here’s how:

While the poll said independents are “less likely” to hold that (obviously controversial) view, a plurality of them (45 percent to 40 percent) say polling firms favor Democrats. Naturally, 65 percent of Democrats disagree (but one in seven, 14 percent, say their candidates are indeed the pollsters’ pets).

Overall, the poll (conducted, oddly enough, by a left-wing website, Daily Kos, and a Democrat-supporting labor organization, Service Employees International Union), said by a 42-40 split that polls spun results Obama’s way.

With a margin of error of 2.8 percent, that means polls are polling poorly with about half of Americans with an opinion about them.

And that leads us to the fact a major national polling firm has reported that the number of people who are unwilling to participate in its polls (like me, for instance) has now become a majority.

That figure, by the way, comes from actual experience, not from a poll about polling.


It is astounding that the Pew Research Center says that out of every 100 households it selects for contact, only 9 percent contain people who will talk to pollsters.

Out of that 100, 38 weren’t home or didn’t answer, so only 62 households answered the phone. And only 9 households would give their opinions about the questions asked, a success rate of one response for every seven people actually contacted — and less than one for every 10 households selected for contact.

So in the average Pew poll, 91 percent of American households selected for sampling will not have their views recorded.

And the number actively refusing to answer is 53 out of every 100 — a true majority. Gee, I’m not alone.

Why won’t most people talk to pollsters?

I know my concern is privacy, but what about others? So I searched for other reactions.


The most thorough account I found was in response to a story on the Tatler blogsite at about the Pew study.

The story generated considerable reader comment, with these being summaries of the most typical reasons given for disdaining polls:

  • “I do not respond because I suspect that callers identifying themselves as pollsters are more likely telemarketers, fraudsters or deceptive political operatives engaged in ‘push-polling.’ “
  • “I do not respond because of potential privacy violation, that pollsters can correlate my answers with my identity.”
  • “I fear that they will use my political beliefs against my family.”
  • ” I do not cooperate because I consider the polling industry an arm of the biased media, trying to influence the electorate.”

And the story itself speculated that, because public distrust of the major media is reaching record levels (Gallup recently found that just 26 percent of Republicans and only 31 percent of independents have either “a great deal” or a “fair” level of trust in the media), many conservative and centrist Americans likely agree with that last view, that polls are tightly tied to the media establishment.

That makes it possible that most voters refusing to be polled are on the center-right.

And that would mean that those choosing to respond are much more likely to be on the left, skewing the results of every poll in a liberal direction.

Now, I have no idea if that’s true, but I do know that we will find out whether it is in just one more month.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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