Originally created 01/26/99

Assumes polls 'free from major bias' 012699 - The Augusta Chronicle



G. Grady Daniel Jr. ("Questions polls on Clinton's popularity," letter, Jan. 5) makes a valid point that statistics and polling methods can be manipulated to show just about anything. However, most poll results used by the general media today can safely be assumed to be free from major bias.

If a group's or company's results were found to be consistently skewed for certain results, then those polls would not be used by most newspapers, magazines, etc.

Gallup Polls was dropped by at least 30 newspapers when it mistakenly picked Thomas Dewey to defeat Harry Truman in 1948, and it had to change its polling methods to regain their confidence. Mr. Daniel's question about polling people who do not own telephones probably stems from the 1948 election when polls done by telephone showed Mr. Dewey with a strong lead. But at that time the percentage of telephone owners in the U.S. was much lower than it is today. A telephone poll today can easily gather a wide enough sampling for good accuracy.

I have seen many articles where the number of people polled, how they were contacted, the margin of error, etc., are provided. And where it is not provided, I am sure the editor has often decided to save valuable space by not providing all the details. If no data was provided to back up a questionable poll, then the editorial staff will have to make a judgment call on whether to include that information. In the end, it is up to the reader to ensure that he gather information from a number of sources, and eventually make up his or her own mind.

Finally, Mr. Daniel is very much mistaken when he says Mr. Clinton is the first president to be elected by a minority of the voters. In fact, fifteen times previous to President Clinton's 1992 election (with 43.3 percent), presidents have been elected with a minority of the total votes cast. ...

Galen Hayenga, Fort Gordon