|Are Polls Being Used To
Manipulate The American Public?
by Daniel T. Zanoza
It's been said many
times. Some politicians, like our current president, govern
according to polls.
statement seems to be a bit more than hyperbole. But, if much of
government policy depends upon polling data, can we then say pollsters
control American domestic and foreign policy. And, if the results of a
poll can be manipulated to obtain a desired result, can we also assume
true political power may lie with individuals we do not elect.
If you are like me, there
have been times when the results of a supposedly reputable poll seemed
unbelievable. For example, during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, many
polls were taken gauging whether the public felt the beleaguered President
should stay in office. In fact, Clinton's re-electionin 1996 may have been,
in part, directly attributed to polling data.
Democrats reacted to what
appeared to be an ambiguity on behalf of the public. With there being no
clear mandate calling for Clinton to step down, Democratic leadership
stayed the course and, in unison, did not break ranks.
Therefore, it can be
reasonably asserted pollsters saved the presidency of Bill Clinton.
Polling created what, I believe, was a false impression concerning
Clinton's popularity and job performance. But the Democrats, temporarily,
won a high stakes wager. Today, the Party is paying the price for refusing
to do the right thing regarding Clinton. Al Gore is burdened with the sins
of the father. And, since Mr. Clinton never paid a price for his legal and
ethical wrongdoing, Gore is now being handed a political tab which is past
I feel the polls were
skillfully used to bolster Bill Clinton's threatened presidency and the
public needs to be made aware of the many ways polling can be directed to
produce a desired response. As you might guess, it is easy to influence
the results of a poll. For example, small changes in sentence structure, a
word here and there, and the public can be led to respond in a
For instance, during
the messy scandal involving Monica Lewinsky, American led
forces bombed what was alleged to be an arms factory in the Sudan. Also
attacked were suspected terrorist sites in Afghanistan. Some political
observers charged the U.S. led NATO action violated international law by
waging a military campaign against sovereign regimes without proper
It was later revealed the
Sudanese facility was, most likely, an aspirin factory. Some critics in
America charged the Clinton administration used the military strike to
deflect attention from his legal and political problems revolving around
the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Shortly after the bombing,
I contacted Tom Johnson, the President and CEO of CNN, to see if their
polling revealed the public also believed the President's action was
related to his political problems. Mr. Johnson had CNN's chief pollster,
Keating Holland, call me. To my astonishment, Holland told me they had not
asked that question. At least it wasn't asked directly.
Holland faxed me a copy of
the most recent CNN poll and it confirmed my worst fears about polling in
America. The questionnaire was fifteen pages long and consisted of 22
questions concerning the performance of the President and Congress, along
with related matters.
I felt there should have
been at least one unambiguous question about those recent events, such as:
Do you think the President's military action against Afghanistan and the
Sudan had anything to do with his current political situation concerning
Well, to my surprise, CNN's
poll did not take this tact. In fact, the question was presented in such a
manner that would give Mr. Clinton a huge advantage. CNN's question was:
"Why do you, personally, think Bill Clinton ordered today's military
strike? Solely because he felt it was in the best interests of the
country, or in part to divert public attention away from the Monica
Lewinsky controversy?" Holland thought there was nothing wrong with
the way this question was phrased.
Now I must admit Tom
Johnson, as always, was completely forthcoming with me and he certainly
didn't have to be. But, when I confronted him with what I saw as a blatant
attempt to skew the results of such an important query, he referred me
back to Holland.
Mr. Holland had the
audacity to tell me CNN's version of the question would elicit a more fair
response. Of course, Holland was trying to cover his tracks. Most
reasonable people would hope the President of the United States was doing
something "in the best interests of the country"--as CNN's query
implied. It is also obvious, to be fair, the CNN poll should have used a
question similar to mine, in order to obtain a more accurate response.
The very next day, the
national media announced the American people had faith Bill Clinton's
decision to take military action against Afghanistan and the Sudan was not
a political ploy. The polling results were repeated time and time again,
on the radio, over television and in local newspapers.
Ultimately, the poll helped
Bill Clinton keep his presidency. Politicians interpreted such data as an
indication Clinton was still very popular. The poll told them the public
believed their President was still able to govern, though he was under the
pressure of impending impeachment.
If the question were
phrased properly, the President's fate may have been drastically
altered. I believe most people felt Clinton had bombed two sovereign
nations to divert attention away from the scandal which plagued him. A
different result might have given politicians an insight into wavering
public support for Clinton which could have then instilled Democrats with
the political courage to call for his resignation. Those who remember
Watergate will recall it was the Republicans who eventually convinced
Richard Nixon to resign his presidency. Perhaps if polling were as
influential in the 1970’s, as
it is today, Nixon might have completed his term in office.
Some may say my assertions
are nothing more than sour grapes. However, my only objective is to expose
what, I feel, is a direct threat to our democratic form of government.
During the last seven and a
half years, we have lived through an administration which determines
national policy by holding a moist finger up to the political wind. And,
even if polls could be trusted, American government should not and cannot
adhere to the whims of a poll. After all, many believe our nation would
have never cast away the shackles of slavery--if national policy were
determined by an opinion poll. And, before the United States entered World
War II, most Americans were opposed to the nation joining the fight
against Adolph Hitler's Germany and Imperial Japan.
Indeed, we might still be a
colony of Mother England, if the Founding Fathers had determined their
actions according to a mere majority of public sentiment. Most certainly,
there are less Earth shattering examples of how polls may be manipulated.
Timing may also play a significant role in polling.
candidate gets a bump in the polls after a convention. And, shortly
following the Republican convention in Philadelphia, George W. Bush
reportedly had as much as a 16 percentage point lead, which was consistent
with data obtained up to that time. In contrast, polling results were
unfairly timed to correspond with the height of news
coverage during the Democratic convention in Los Angeles. Although few
Americans watched the Democratic convention, we are supposed to believe Al
Gore now leads George Bush in the polls. Gore was given the luxury of
receiving his bump during the convention which, I believe, produced
inflated positive numbers for the Vice-president.
The greater problem is, the
networks are turning to polls more and more. Polls the
liberal-dominated mainstream press want you to hear receive a great deal
of publicity. Data, which is contrary to political correctness, receives
little attention. It's yet another tactic the news media is using, quite
successfully, to form public opinion.
My only warning to you is
BEWARE. Do not believe all you hear and see concerning polling. Remember,
in 1996, polls told us Bill Clinton was beating Bob Dole by a landslide.
Subsequently, many Dole supporters stayed home because they thought the
race was over. In actuality, Clinton won that election with 49% of the
popular vote to Doles 43%. Dole lost by a mere 6% of the vote and the rest
Polls? My late
mother-in-law had a favorite saying which I think is very apropos.
"Consider the source." So, before abiding by the results of any
poll, take my mother-in-law‘s advice and ...
Copyright 2000 Daniel T.