Political Polls Have Become Dangerous Tools in Today’s Social Media World

In today’s world a well-written or articulated – though factually inaccurate – opinion is often mistaken for truth. Just look at the obsession many political blogs (and people in general), both on the left and the right, have had over presidential polls.

I’m going to cut straight to the point: Many of these folks who try to break down presidential polls don’t seem to have a clue about how to read or analyze them accurately. Not only that, but they’re picking and choosing what polls they want to write about, what numbers within that poll they want to promote and ignoring any data that might not support the agenda they’re trying to push. Otherwise known as being unethical as hell.

I’ve spoken up multiple times about a certain pro-Sanders blogger who likes to use outdated polling data in his articles, while ignoring newer polling which might contradict the outlook he’s trying to project. And he’s not alone in this phenomenon. Many people from all ends of the political spectrum have mastered the art of seeking out data which supports their agenda, ignoring information that doesn’t, and presenting an overtly biased opinion as “fact” to those they’ve duped into believing their drivel.

Donald Trump is another person who seems to have “difficulty” accurately portraying polling data. He obsesses about polling numbers that show him doing well, often bragging about them on Twitter. Yet anytime someone reports on a poll that might be seen as a “negative” for his campaign (I debunked a ridiculous conspiracy he pushed about Iowa polls and the media a few weeks back), he’ll often go on tangents, claiming that the poll is worthless. He only wants to promote the polls that show him doing well, while attacking or ignoring the polls that might show him slipping or someone gaining on him.

This is a rather dangerous problem I’m seeing this election: Poll Reporting Distortion.

A conservative or liberal writer/Facebook page/blog/website supports a particular candidate such as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. They then proceed to write various articles promoting said candidate, often to the point of obsession. Then when new polls comes out, they completely ignore the ones that don’t paint their candidate in a positive light (a pro-Clinton poll will never appear on a pro-Sanders blog or visa versa) – and that’s a significant problem. What this does is it creates a reality that might not exist.

If all someone is being fed is polling data from select polls that paint a biased picture based on personal political agenda, instead of a well-rounded picture of actual reality, then, quite literally, their “political reality” is being distorted. If someone is only being fed pro-Clinton or pro-Sanders polling data, from sources that clearly have an agenda to promote one candidate over the other, that’s borderline indoctrination.

Iowa is a perfect example of this.

As of writing this, five of the last seven polls on Real Clear Politics have shown an advantage for Clinton. But if you’re someone who’s wrapped themselves up in what I call the “Bernie Bubble,” you’ve probably only heard about the polls where he’s ahead. Therefore, if you’re inside of this bubble and Sanders happens to lose Iowa – you’re going to be shocked. Which, from the attitude I’ve witnessed over the last few months, will likely trigger conspiracy theories from folks claiming the caucus was rigged and that there was no way Clinton could have won Iowa. And why is that? Because the “Bernie Bubble” echo chamber has only been feeding them pro-Sanders information, promoting pro-Sanders polling results and often telling people how “inevitable” Bernie’s victory is.

And some Clinton supporters can be the same way. If Sanders ultimately wins the nomination, many of them will be dumbfounded. How could Sanders possibly have won when all they’ve been told was how Sanders is only popular online and the polling results showing him ahead of her in some polls weren’t accurate? If they’re never told about the polls that showed him ahead, then they’ll have never known that he was a bigger threat in Iowa than their “Clinton Bubble” had ever made him out to be.

Again, this is a rather significant problem, and it’s happening more and more. We’re seeing mass amounts of misinformation being passed off as “credible news” by people who aren’t really qualified to be writing or talking about it (let alone breaking down often very complex polling data), and by websites and Facebook pages which have abandoned a well-rounded liberal or conservative take on the news to push a particular agenda about a particular candidate. If we’re not careful and allow ourselves to succumb to the comfort of an echo chamber while ignoring the big picture, it could very well backfire on us come November.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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