Polls apart

November 12, 1998|By Harry Rosenfeld

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Fifty years after the national pollsters messed up in a big way, they are making the same kinds of errors that gave polling a bad name in the Truman-Dewey race in 1948.

To explain why they missed calling key races in 1998, they trotted out alibis withered with age. In a number of contests, they simply failed to poll right up to election time, thus missing changes in voter opinions. In others, they made assumptions that were false.

Public opinion surveying, comprehensively and conscientiously done, is a valuable tool providing information that would not be otherwise available. Exit polls are especially useful for revealing the motives of people who actually voted.

Polling deserves better from its practitioners than it got in this year's elections.

The news media that push these polls on the public are far from guiltless. Their readers and viewers are entitled to accurate information, which is the reason for publishing these polls in the first place. Given the poor performances by many pollsters this election, the media ought to demand their money back and apologize to their customers.

Harry Rosenfeld is editor-at-large of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union.

Pub Date: 11/12/98

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