My Beautiful Wickedness

Lazy Pollsters
September 7, 2008, 9:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

“I was smarter than most, and I could choose,
Learned to talk like the man on the six o’ clock news…”

Hi, it’s the Hillbilly Professor again…this time, complaining about sloppy poll questions.

I got polled yesterday by a national polling agency. Let’s call them Rogby. Anybody reading me knows my politics — big ol’ lefty — you also know that I’m critical of overtly partisan polling because I’m a social scientist who knows that they know better and because I think it damages the causes it tries to push.

Anywho, I’m scrolling along providing my answers and then I hit the “how hillbilly are you” section.

“How often do you go to church?”
“How often do you shop at Walmart?”
“Do you consider yourself a NASCAR fan?”
“Are you or any member of your family a veteran of the Armed Forces?”
“Are you now or have you been a member of the NRA?”
“Do you now or have you ever owned a gun?”
“Do you consider yourself a citizen of your city, America, or the planet earth?”
“What’s your highest level of education?”
“How often do you let your dog ride in the front of the truck?”
“How often do you eat your cornbread in milk?”

Ok, so the last few are made up, but you get the idea. I understand that Rogby’s questions are trying to get at the voting preferences of cultural demographic of “God, Guns, and Country” (red state) voters, but there’s so many of us that don’t fit this narrow little pigeonhole, so many of us that look superficially we should fit that stereotype but don’t really. How many men were thoroughly radicalized by their experience in Vietnam? How about the Christians whose churches are active in social justice ministries or who have taken a public stand to oppose the war on faith grounds? How many people would like to shop at the mom and pop grocery but have to shop at WallyWorld because it’s the only grocery store left in the county and they need to get diapers?

This kind of polling is lazy and counter-productive. It doesn’t ask more core indicator questions about what we think about the role of government, the state of the struggle for racial equality, our ideas about privacy, our ideas about the way we see America’s relative position in the world. If they asked those kind of questions (rather than assuming that my NASCAR preferences was a shorthand index for cultural conservatism and latent racism), we might learn something interesting about why people are voting as they do. I think that they assume, however, that I’m not deep enough to be that self-reflective.

I’m a lefty well-educated high-income hillbilly and I didn’t stop being southern when I moved to a northern town. As Don Williams once sang, “what do you do with good ol’ boys like me?”


11 Comments so far
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There’s a reason that one of the major pollsters has been producing consistently incorrect predictions this year, you know.

Comment by nm

Exactamundo. They are so off so often that I don’t even typically consult their findings when I’m trying to take the electoral pulse.

Comment by bridgett

I think it might be because they get paid for the polls and they’re just trying to make the process as cheap and quick as possible, so’s to max out the profits. I’m sure that there’s no INTENTIONAL skewing of the polls just because somebody is paying you to do them.

Comment by democommie

Yeah, being paid for delivering a particular result never biases research. John Zogby is a headline whore — he likes to come up with these dingdong factoid findings that can run on a CNN scroll, with a methodology that’s little short of appalling.

Comment by bridgett


I never pay much attention to polls anyway, but Zogby’s should just say, “Zogby Polls, a division of Fox Misinfotainment”.

Comment by democommie

You know, that’s funny because Zogby has the rep among Freepers as being biased towards liberals…

Comment by bridgett

Zogby started out as the liberals’ pollster: asking questions other polls didn’t bother with, looking at demographic information others ignored, giving numbers that could make liberals happy while still being fairly accurate. That’s an old story, but five years ago the Freepers would have been more or less on target with it. It’s only over the past couple of years that they’ve been so off-base with their numbers, and I don’t follow polling news closely enough to know whether that’s connected with them having been picked up by new patrons.

Comment by nm

He likes headlines. He’ll massage date, change methodologies midstream, oversample, count or discount leaners to the degree that gives him the result he’s looking for — whatever will get him a headline or a lead story on the ten o’clock news. It used to irk me no end during the 2004 campaign when he would produce these la-la land numbers for Kerry and all the deluded souls who thought that Bush was a dumbass felt justified in dismissing him…and we all know how that turned out.

Polls and trendlines and so forth — it’s all a bit like divining with chicken guts (that is, a really messy business in which you see what you want to see). But there are better and worse ways to do it.

Comment by bridgett

If you DO put cornbread in milk often,I think you will move to the top of my “favorite internet people” list.

Comment by Slartibartfast

Of course I eat cornbread in milk. I usually eat it with butter when it’s hot and fresh (though occasionally I soak it just for old time’s sake, because it reminds me of my dad); more commonly, however, cornbread and milk is a breakfast thing, using up whatever bread remains from the night before. I guess I could make stuffing or something, but why would I when it’s so good with milk on top?

I’m glad to see you back around.

Comment by bridgett

When people who like southern cooking ask me what polenta is I tell them it’s Italian grits. When folks who like italian cooking ask me what grits are, I tell them they’re dixie polenta.

Comment by democommie

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