With a 9% response rate (at most!), pre-election polls are worse than useless

Political Polling Is No Longer Meaningful
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 00:00 By Salvatore Babones, Truthout | News Analysis

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama at a town hall style presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012. (Photo: Josh Haner / The New York Times) Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama at a town hall style presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012. (Photo: Josh Haner / The New York Times) The truth is that we have no idea who is ahead in the presidential race. Opinion polling has entered uncharted territory as response rates have plummeted.

When you receive an unexpected call from a private number or 1-800 number, do you answer the phone? Most people don’t, and those who do are hardly a representative sample of the American population. Yet the results of all major political polls are based on the assumption that the 9 percent of us who answer the phone are perfectly representative of the 91 percent who don’t.

According to a report from the Pew Research Center, only about 9 percent of Americans answer the phone and respond to opinion polls. When response rates fall this low, polls tell us less about public opinion than about who answers the phone.

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