blog Time Hath Found Us: Was the ABC News Poll about Terri Really a "Push Poll"?

April 04, 2005

Was the ABC News Poll about Terri Really a "Push Poll"?

While researching the validity certain polls for an upcoming post, I ran across a terrific resource blog. The blog is: "Mystery Pollster" edited by Mark Blumenthal, a professional pollster with more than 18 years of experience. Frankly, I regret not having found Mystery Pollster sooner, that way I could have avoided making a semi-fool of myself in a certain previous post. Don't get me wrong, I still believe that some of the wording in the ABC News poll was dubious and perhaps misleading, but I would have thought twice before I used the term "push poll." A lesson learned. As the saying goes: "Fools run in where angels fear to tread."

Mr. Blumenthal, has posted an excellent analysis of the ABC poll. First he defines some terms:

First, a plea for reporters, editors and bloggers of all ideologies: Can we please stop using the term "push poll" to describe every survey we consider objectionable? Yes, complain about bias when you see it, but the phrase push poll belongs to a higher order offense. To summarize the definitions posted online by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), The National Council on Public Polls (NCPP) and the Council for Marketing & Opinion Research (CMOR): A push poll is not a poll at all but rather a form of fraud - an effort to spread an untrue or salacious rumor under the guise of legitimate research. "Push pollsters" are not pollsters at all. They do not care about collecting data or measuring opinions (even in a "bogus" way). They only care about calling as many people as possible to spread a false or malicious rumor without revealing their true intent. Whatever complaint one might have about the wording or reporting of the ABC poll, it was certainly not a "push poll."

End rant.

Point taken.

Writing about those who assert that the poll was unfair or biased he responds:

Do they have a point? The quick answer: The evidence of bias or deliberate untruth in the ABC poll is scant, though the issue raises some interesting questions about the appropriateness of "informed" questions.

After a very interesting and detailed analysis of this and other polls, Blumenthal concludes:

ONE LAST THOUGHT: After reflecting on the comments on this post, there is one word I wish I had written differently: "defensible" (as in, "was the language of their question defensible?"). A better word would have been "fair" or as Kaus put it, "reasonably calculated to produce an accurate poll of what people think."
So in that regard, I think that while far from perfect, the ABC question was fair. Others -- obviously -- disagree.

In conclusion, while I still "feel" (there is that word) the questions were not fairly worded and therefore the poll results can not be full trusted (see the April 2nd Zogby Poll), there is a possibility that America has fallen to a much deeper level of depravity than that with which I am comfortable.

You really must read the entire piece here.