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Uncertain period for polls, pollsters


ERIC SMITH, [email protected]

Uncertain period for polls, pollsters

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THE POLLS GOT it wrong – again.

It was not just simply a question of “margin of error” that we so often hear but rather being way off target.

At least for the casual onlooker that is the only conclusion to come to, even if the professional pollsters may argue they’re not any less accurate.

Yet, without question almost all of the polls inthe United States missed their mark on Tuesday during the presidential vote which was the focal point around the world – and perhaps in some of the many other contests held in that country on the same day.

Based on what polls were saying up until the eve of the vote, only the fanatical supporter of Donald Trump expected the kind of victory he eventually registered.

This result only adds to the international and regional polls which have been off the mark in recent times. The polls were wrong in the US midterm elections of 2014 and, oh yes, they also got it wrongin Israel and most certainly in Britain.

The point may well be argued that given the predictions of the polls this could lead to voter apathy – the candidate of choice is clearly ahead and no need to get into the polling booth.

This is why in light of the very high-profile nature of that election Trump’s victory was not only a stinging rebuke of the political establishment, but left all of the recognised polling organisations licking their wounds. That old maxim that getting people out to the polls on the day of the election is what matters was most certainly proven on Tuesday. The voters may simply not want to say who they’re voting for other than by exercising their rights in the ballot box.

The respected news agency Reuters, which conducted tracking polls throughout the election season, conceded on Wednesday it had pumped out two kinds of poll stories. They were based on the national surveys designed to estimate the entire country’s popular vote, and those at the state level where the contest is actually decided. Reuters said: “In hindsight, though, the stories seem to have overstated Clinton’s chances for a win by failing to see that a shift in voting patterns in some states could show up in other, similar states. In part, this is because polling analysts got the central metaphor wrong.”

Unfortunately, the sceptics of polling and prediction – some of whom may now adamantly say looking into a crystal ball has the same effect – because of Tuesday’s missed mark. The pollsters have been getting it wrong in many places where they ought not to, given their level of sophistication and experience along with the available technology.

Times were when there was the Harris poll in the USA and the Carl Stone poll in Jamaica and even CADRES in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, andwhen they called it – well, it was invariablytotally correct.

The world seems to have entered an uncertain period for the polls and the pollsters. Is it that the potential voter isn’t giving accurate answers, or the undecided voter is skewing everything or the analyses are biased and off mark?

Clearly, a review of what has been happeningwith the political opinion polls will have to bedone by the pollsters themselves to find the sourcesof error.

Doubts therefore linger about the opinion polls. But we still need them.

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