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Invalid polls

  • Fund raising in the guise of polling—sometimes referred to as "fugging"
  • Selling in the guise of polling—sometimes referred to as "sugging"
  • Polls consisting of self-selected samples—e.g., responding to 900 telephone numbers, clipping magazine or newspaper ballots, or clicking on "polls" posted on the Internet—sometimes referred to as "slops"

Straw polls are all invalid

A so-called straw poll refers to a farmer tossing some straw in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. Like the Literary Digest poll, (see the section on polling history) a straw poll is actually a pseudo poll. That is, the Literary Digest poll purported to be a representation of public opinion, but the methodology was so faulty that taro cards would have done as well. Any time a poll's respondents select themselves into the sample, the results are likely to be no more accurate than as those of the Literary Digest poll. These straw polls, are still very much alive. They take several forms.

Constituent polls

Many members of Congress send newsletters to their constituents with a list of questions included. The constituents are asked, as the Literary Digest readers were, to indicate their preferences and return the questionnaire to the congressman or senator so that he or she will know what the folks back home are thinking. Whether individual congressional offices pay any attention to the responses or not, they ought to know enough to treat the results of these straw polls with a grain of salt, because they certainly are not accurate representations of the sentiments of all their constituents.

Clip-and-send polls

Wherever there are publications, there are straw polls. Newspapers and magazines ask their readers to tear out a form and send it back to the publisher with the reader's views on everything from sewage treatment to premarital sex. The results may be entertaining, but they have no external validity.

Membership polls

Membership organizations use their newsletters or magazines to elicit members' opinions. Although all the respondents share the affinity that caused them to join the organization in the first place, there are many more ways in which they are different, one from another. If the poll is to be an accurate reflection of all members, the sample must be selected randomly from everyone belonging to the organization.

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