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Letter From the Editor

Polls, surveys, and the Best of Memphis

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Like most people, when my phone rings, I check to see who's calling. I learned long ago not to answer calls from 800 numbers or unknown area codes. Those calls were usually from someone trying to sell me something.

Imagine the difficulty this presents for political polling organizations. Public response to polls is down from about 27 percent in the 1990s to less than 9 percent in 2012. The difficulty is magnified by the increasing number of households that no longer have a land-line telephone and the fact that land-line phone users skew much older.

Still, not a day goes by without news of the latest national or swing-state polls. Most of the current polling on the presidential race shows President Obama with a substantial lead. Democrats are pleased by these results; Republicans prefer to discount them or downplay their significance.

Then there are the GOP poll "truthers," who claim that polls are skewing results by over-sampling Democrats. This claim shows a lack of understanding of the polling process. Pollsters first ask who the respondent favors for president and tally the results. They ask party affiliation after the money shot. If you reversed that process, then weighted the results based on historical percentages of Democrats and Republicans, you'd skew the results.

Democrats also have poll truther issues. Most believe that Rasmussen and Fox News polls are weighted toward Republicans. But according to RealClearPolitics.com, the five most accurate polling organizations in predicting the final presidential popular vote margin in 2008 were Rasmussen, Ipsos/McClatchy, CNN, Fox News, and Pew. All were within .5 percent of the final margin: Obama, 52.9 percent; McCain, 45.6 percent.

But there's no need for truthers to be concerned about the Flyer's Best of Memphis results. Back when BOM voting was done via snail-mail, our poor ballot-counters were faced with deciding which ballots were "real" and which were the result of some restaurateur grabbing 50 Flyers off the rack and having their staff fill them out. We had a paper trail, but it wasn't pretty.

Since we moved to online balloting a few years back, our voting numbers have increased dramatically, and duplicate voting has pretty much been eliminated. This year, a record number of votes were cast. You can find the results beginning on page 19. And that's the truth.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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