34

My understanding of polling is that it is done to gauge public perception and opinion of political actors and policies in order to further shape a candidates actions. In order to do that, one would expect a moderately rigorous polling apparatus. I would expect clear cut questions with obviously applicable answers from most possible viewpoints.

Sometimes, though, candidates or organizations will run polls about their own actions that seem to be designed to get a certain outcome. As an example, the Trump organization regularly posts polls that have been widely criticized online for asking leading questions or only giving supportive options. Here's an example of one such poll which seems to have all the scientific rigor of a wet noodle.

What purpose does it serve for an organization to publish polls on themselves that this? Because of the leading questions, I would assume very little action can be taken based on them? What purpose does issuing such a bunk poll serve?

Poll questions from Trump re-election site

  • 1
    Your link gives me "Access forbidden" (I don't know how to check the HTTPS error code, Error 451?) – gerrit Oct 15 at 19:55
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    @gerrit Yes, that's what's happening; connecting from a US-based VPN works fine. – probably_someone Oct 17 at 9:13
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    @probably_someone This poll is not looking for anybody's opinion. – gerrit Oct 17 at 9:16
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    Whaaa ...? Is a poll like that not an impeachable offense in itself? – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 17 at 10:54
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    The words "Certified" and "Official" in there seem to be trying a way too hard, don't they? (There's no such thing as an "official" poll or a "certified" website) – T.E.D. Oct 17 at 16:26
82

One purpose of the type of poll that you linked to is to develop a list of potential donors and campaign volunteers and supporters. The one-sided nature of the poll language serves to a) motivate the potential reader to respond and b) screen out anyone likely to disagree or be disinterested.

Since the poll form then asks the submitter to include their name, email address, ZIP code, and mobile phone number, it's a tool well-suited for building up a pre-screened contact list for future mailings and solicitations.

37

I tend to group polls into one of two types:

  • scientific polls that intend to reflect accurately what the population or whichever subgroup it is interested in thinks/believes/desires/knows

  • proof-of-myself polls that intend to show support for whatever my political/sales/religious message is.

Of course, they are sometimes hard to distinguish but a lot of polls make it blatantly obvious that they are in the second category (although arguably these are mostly marketing polls).

The idea behind it is simple. ‘9 out of 10 doctors recommend <insert product here>!’ ‘93 % of users are content with <insert service here>!’ ‘65 % of voters agree that <insert policy here> must be done!’ The first two obviously work in product or service marketing as evidenced by their continued prevalence. Often, the scientific basis behind the claims falls apart if you look at it for more than two split seconds. Sometimes the science behind is slightly more rigorous but still obviously biased—but that type of poll also costs more to make so the advertiser may not choose to perform it.

In the political world, we have become accustomed to polls to describe voting preferences, candidate preferences and policy support in the time between elections (or when the actual choice is not up for election as would be the case e.g. for political candidates in Europe). Furthermore, because there is a critical mass of reputable, scientific polling companies and organisations, there tends to be a certain belief in the accuracy of published polls.

Polls are not only made for politicians (who might use them to gauge support for themselves, their parties or policies) but may also be used by undecided voters in the run up to an election to decide who to vote for, or the published opinion may influence public opinion. Obvious example: if a candidate has 70 % support, it is psychologically harder to disagree with them because it implies disagreeing with the ‘powerful majority’. Thus, publishing polls that have ‘all the scientific rigor of a wet noodle’ (nice quote!) can serve as simple, basic marketing to improve one’s position or support.

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    Now that a picture of the poll has been made available, it is clearly second-type. Just wow. – Jan Oct 15 at 12:53
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    Do you think that leading questions are the best and most intelligent kind of questions or are you a grumpy dork that does not understand and like leading questions? Those "questions" were awful. Anyone with any kind of ethics would be ashamed of asking such loaded questions. – hlovdal Oct 16 at 9:47
20

Depending on how you became aware of the poll, this may be an example of a push poll. This is a poll where there is no intention of doing anything useful with the results, but where the true goal of the poll is to influence people by asking them loaded questions.

A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to manipulate or alter prospective voters' views under the guise of conducting an opinion poll

Typically, a push poll would contact large numbers of people, so if this poll was not sent out to large numbers of people, it is more likely to be one of the possibilities discussed by other answers.

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    It's simply posted openly on what appears to be the candidates website. The nature of the questions seems to be pretty clearly push-polling plus the site terms are clearly pointing towards building up their marketing lists. – RBarryYoung Oct 16 at 14:01
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    Its totally a push poll. FWIW, on the History site we've taken to referring to questions that are promotional rather than questing in motivation as "push questions". – T.E.D. Oct 17 at 16:23
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    I agree with your (potential) assessment of this mailer - as I received virtually the same one - and I want to add that at the end of my mailer was a request for donation. So the purpose of that/this mailer may be only to get donations - nothing else. – X Goodrich Oct 17 at 17:00
6

You can get the results you want by how you ask the questions.

  1. Do you believe the climate is changeing? Y N
    Since the climate is always changing everyone would answer yes.

  2. Do you believe carbon emissions contributes to climate change? Y N
    Well, if you think 1% OR 99% is from carbon emissions you would answer yes.

  3. Do you believe there is an agenda being pushed with the climate change narative? Y N
    If you believe there are some who would benefit who are pushing for climate change awareness, you would answer yes, even if their influence is 1% or 99% of the climate push.

These questions are very different from:

  1. What percentage of climate change do you believe is caused by carbon emissions?
    0-20% 21-40% 41-60% 61-80% 81-100%

  2. What percentage of climate change do you believe is caused by the sun?
    0-20% 21-40% 41-60% 61-80% 81-100%

  3. What percentage of climate change do you believe is caused by natural cycles?
    0-20% 21-40% 41-60% 61-80% 81-100%

It is a way to validate your position and make it appear that everyone believes the same as those taking the poll. A big chunk of political polling is to shape public opinion, not measure it. It looks scientific, it could be scientific, but it may not be scientific or honest at all.

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    Please try to support your answer by adding some references. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Oct 15 at 16:34
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    "Since the climate is always changing everyone would answer yes." This assumes the person interprets the question completely literally, which is generally not the case. – eyeballfrog Oct 16 at 4:07
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    Your questions 4-6 are themselves prone to ambiguity. You haven't specified whether the term climate change refers to geologically long timescales (e.g., ice ages - in which case it's #6), long historical periods (e.g., Little Ice Age - in which case it's #5) or the particular current period that we're all so worried about (#4). – Oscar Bravo Oct 16 at 9:01
1

Can I suggest 4 motives for conducting biased polls:

Badly designed: It may not be deliberate. Even if the research is a sincere attempt to get information, non-specialists are poor at designing polls that will elicit unbiased answers Particulary: People with strong views may lack insight into how other people will respond. people may respond tactically, etc

Generating media coverage: It is much easier to get news coverage for a poll (or just coming up with a number for something, however spurious) even if the poll itself is not designed to change opinion in some way. Issue-based PR is more interesting than dull self-promotion.

Lobbying/influence: Polls designed to produce answers that can be used for PR and lobbying in pursuit of your interests. Obviously there is a skill to getting the answer you want without being so obvious about it.

Push Polls Bogus polls designed for data collection, targeting and influence of the respondant population rather than in for the analysis.

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