Are We Ever Going To Talk About Bad Polls?

Dr. Munr Kazmir
6 min readNov 4, 2021

Polling is officially unreliable. Are pollsters really just getting it wrong (every time) or is it a disinformation campaign?

The Straw Poll booth at CPAC. 2011. (photo: Gage Skidmore)

Polls don’t just fall out the sky. They don’t grow on trees. The don’t spring up fully formed from the earth.

All polls come from somewhere.

Someone, most often a group of someones, will requisition a poll on a certain topic or topics, hire the requisite staff or polling company, set the parameters of the project and get to work. Maybe they want to take the public’s temperature on a number of social and policy questions for the purposes of a political campaign; maybe they want to measure the saturation of an ad campaign.

Pollsters and the people who hire them don’t do their work purely as a service to humanity; they do it for a purpose, usually, at the bottom of everything, that purpose is money.

Political campaigns, like ad campaigns, are very expensive. Pushing a message that falls flat with likely voters doesn’t make for a successful campaign. Losing campaigns, as many politicians have learned to their great cost, are just as expensive as winning ones, sometimes more. It makes sense to find out how voters feel and tailor messages that appeal to them.

Small businesses often want to know how you heard about their products for the same reason. Advertising is expensive: They want to know what worked and what didn’t so they can do more of one and less of the other.

So why are the polls so wrong?

Pollsters have escaped scrutiny over the past few elections, during the courses of which their predictions have fallen spectacularly to pieces. At first, it was downright Donald Trump-level shocking. By 2018, less so. By 2020, and well into 2021, it is understood that polls aren’t what they used to be.

Why not?

Most types of data collection and data analysis have gotten better, more accurate over the years; not less. Advertisers are so good at micro-targeted marketing, it has gotten retailers like Target in trouble for sending moms-to-be mailers for baby products before they’ve even told their families about the pregnancy.