Bomb Agrabah? Manipulative pollsters, not stupid people.

Image: Disney Studios

When you hear an outlandish poll result, you first thought may be, “Wow, people are stupid.” You’d be wrong. Blame the pollsters and the people who publicize their spurious results, not the supposed “voters” they contacted.

In the last month, we’ve heard these unbelievable poll results:

It’s not just the people taking these polls that are ignorant and credulous — it’s also the people reporting them, and the people reading them and posting them on Facebook. Look at where these numbers come from and you’ll see that the pollsters are manipulating media, not gathering data.

Dubious polling methods

The “bomb Agrabah” question comes from Public Policy Polling. Here’s how they poll people: they get a list of registered Republicans (or Democrats), match them up to listed home phone numbers, and set up a robocalling machine to dial their phone numbers and ask them questions. The respondents answer by punching numbers on their phone keypads.

So their sample consists of people with home phones who are willing to spend time talking back to a machine (and don’t still have rotary phones). They’re old and bored. Perhaps they’re hard of hearing. When asked an absurd question (in sequence after semi-serious questions, like “Would you support or oppose creating a national database of Muslims in the United States?”), it’s not so surprising that they believe that Agrabah is a real place — why would a poll ask about an imaginary country? So they push a button.

This is not polling, it’s trolling for headlines. It’s bullshit. It represents nothing.

The WPA research poll regarding Agrabah refugees used the same dubious home phone/interactive voice response methodology.

The “Judge Judy” result comes from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. It’s based on interviews with a panel — a more dependable methodology. But the question is a multiple choice: which of these people is on the Supreme Court? Elana Kagan is the only right answer. If you don’t know who she is, you’re just guessing. 62% of college graduates knew who she was, and one in four of the rest guessed wrong and picked “Judy Sheindlin.”

Spare us the Agrabah-tion

Even well-designed polls are of dubious value in terms of representing the population. The pollsters who designed these polls to mislead and embarrass the respondents, and then used questionable methods to get garbage results and headlines.

Next time you read an incredible poll result, don’t assume that Republicans (or Democrats, or college graduates) are stupid. Assume the pollster is manipulating the media to get coverage. Don’t be a dupe.

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