Election 2012
11:44 pm
Tue September 25, 2012

Are You Feeling Polling Fatigue?

We've all received unwanted phone calls. From friends, family … maybe even your boss (thank goodness, for Caller ID, right?)

Telemarketers have certainly earned a reputation for interrupting us, but we can block many of those calls with the national Do-Not-Call registry.

But since it’s election season, the likely culprit of annoyance is a political candidate, a third party interest group, or maybe a media outlet conducting a poll. The point is, polls are everywhere.

The only groups who are exempt from the Do-Not-Call law are recognized charities, public opinion groups and political campaigns.

Polling companies like Public Policy Polling in Raleigh are working at a frenetic pace. The director there says his firm conducts about 50 polls a month. Now it’s about 300.

Pollsters are even calling our newsroom. Here’s one we received from President Obama’s campaign:

CALL: “For statistical purposes only, please enter your gender. Press one if you are a man and two if you are a woman. Paid for by 'Obama for America' 312 ... "

So with so many political polls, we wanted to know if people are suffering from polling fatigue. And if so, does that affect the accuracy of polls?

For Adrian Gomez of Charlotte, the answers are yes and yes. He says he received five calls in three days on his cell phone.

“I did the first three (polls). I did not answer honestly for the last two," says Gomez, a technology manager for Bank of America.

Not only did he get tired of the calls, but he says some of the questions seemed biased. So he decided to have fun with it.

“I’m a Hispanic and I said that I’m white. I said that I was a Republican and that I was voting for Obama and I said that I was 55, instead of 40. And for the NRA I said that I owned guns, which I don’t own any of them.”

Gomez is a rarity in that he actually responded, says Tom Jensen. He’s the director of Public Policy Polling. He says the response rate is down to about 10 percent. Thirty years ago, it was closer to 40 percent. Of course, that was before caller ID and widespread use of voice mail that make it easy to screen calls. The fewer responses there are, the more calls you have to make. So to reach 500 people, you need to make 5,000 calls.

“Women are much more likely to answer polls than men, older people are much more likely to answer polls than younger people and Caucasians are much more likely to answer polls than minorities," Jensen says. "So if you sort of just do your poll, you’re going to end up with a lot of older white women.”

So pollsters assign different values to different groups.

“For instance, if you’re doing a poll of North Carolina where 22 percent of the population roughly is black and only 13 percent of your poll respondents are black, you have to weigh that data so that those interviews from African-Americans have a larger value to them and then inversely make it so that the interviews from white people have a lower value to them. And this is really a lot of what I think is determining whether polls are accurate or not, is how well weighted they are,” Jensen says.

The Civitas Institute, which bills itself as “North Carolina’s conservative voice," also comissions a lot of polls. The group’s president, Francis De Luca, says his pollsters can figure out abnormalities in respondents’ answers – at least in the long run.

“One of the beauties of a group like us that does polling all the time, we can track what we’re doing," De Luca says.

Pollsters count on people like Matt Menees of Rowan County. Menees says he always picks up the phone and honestly answers every question. He also feels sorry for polling firm workers who call him.

“People hang up on them all day," Menees says. "Why do I have to contribute to that?”

Since Labor Day, Menees says he’s been receiving one to two calls a day from political pollsters. They usually start at lunchtime.  

But guess who’s never been polled? Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling.

"One big reason for that is that I only have a cell phone and a lot of pollsters don’t call people who only have cell phones. So I’m a pollster who has never been polled,” Jensen says.

But he does have plenty of journalists calling him, eager to report the results of his polls.