What can we do? First, we in the media have to understand this monster we have hired. Political polling is a fine art, having to measure such variables as likely voters, demographic balances and—trickiest of all—the dynamics of the electorate, which can stampede at the end.
We have to be honest with readers about the shortcomings of a poll we print—and courageous enough to spike one we don’t trust.
Fiedler was right 26 years ago. And he is right today. News organizations are getting increasingly sloppy with reporting on—and addressing the shortcomings of—their own polls, not to mention asking tough questions of all the other polls that seem to pop up every day.
The National Council on Public Polls offers 20 questions journalists should ask about poll results. Let’s ask them.