Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hello? Robot Calling

Polls, Pundits, Politicians, and Reporters

The conservative-leaning Rasmussen poll reports today (Tuesday, August 23, 2011) that “Most voters (53%) oppose public schooling ... for illegal immigrants. Some politician is going to pick up this statement and the supporting statistics and run with it. It might be somebody from the State of Texas. Then, the media will dutifully report it.

The question was “If a family is not in this country legally, should their children be allowed to attend public schools?” That’s a fair question, a question being asked often these days, but who is on the phone.

Recently, I wrote about polling and its place in the political process. Those running for office live and die by research. It was more than that stupid straw poll in Iowa that made former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty that brought his Presidential campaign to an end.

“Obviously the pathway forward for me doesn't really exist so we are going to end the campaign," Pawlenty said on ABC's "This Week". He read the Tea Party leaves and left. It had to do with polling, and polling leads to money. If you’re running out of money, you can’t campaign.

Back to Rasmussen and schooling for children of illegal immigrants, the poll didn’t ask what should be done with these kids. If they’re not in school, where are they? Are they on the street? Are they in gangs? Are they headed for jail, jails and prisons supported by our tax dollars.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to give them an education? Then, they could become tax-payers contributing to society rather than taking from society.
Again, remember the demographic answering questions for Rasmussen. Rasmussen makes calls to land line telephones. The number of people with land lines is shrinking. People still using land lines are an older demographic.

That older demographic often argues against school taxes since their children have already graduated. So, they ask, why should we be paying for someone else’s children—legal or illegal? The answer, of course, is that we are paying forward. We, our society and cities, need an educated population.

While Rasmussen claims accuracy of +/- 3 percent, plus or minus three percent of what?

As I wrote two weeks ago, one and four households were cellphone only, no land line, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-four percent of those wireless-only users were between 18 and 30 years old.

Now, here’s something new: Rasmussen can’t call those wireless numbers. Why? A live person isn’t making the call.

“Rasmussen is a robo-pollster, which means that he calls people with automated equipment and has a robot voice ask the questions, to which respondents punch in numbers on their touch pad. By law, robo-pollsters cannot call cell phones,” says Dr. Frank Newport, Editor in Chief of the Gallup Poll. “So his methods are fast becoming obsolete,” Newport continues. “They attempt to make up for this by adding in online polls, but they are of dubious randomness.”

Newport, author of the book “Polling Matters”, tells me some 40-percent of the calls Gallup’s people make are to cell phones and the percentage will likely go up. “Gallup and the industry have been focused on dealing with the changes in how people communicate for years and are generally keeping abreast of it. The next challenge is conducting surveys using text and smart phones, but we are not quite there yet,” Newport says.

I could find no recent Gallup polls asking the same question as the Rasmussen poll, but when journalists, viewers, readers, and consumers of media see statistics, they should consider the source and the methodology.
Further, if we poll the parents of these children now attending public school, children who are learning English, history, civics, and other subjects citizens take for granted, there is a Gallup poll saying that illegal immigrants are coming to the United States for precisely this reason, education.

Note: Frank Newport, PhD is a Texan, a graduate of Baylor University, and a former broadcast journalist in Houston, now living in Princeton, New Jersey.

© Jim McNabb, 2011

1 comment:

roadgeek said...

Reminds me of the Literary Digest debacle of 1936, which involved telephone polling as well.

I hold no brief for illegal aliens, but their children do need to be educated.