The Top Problems with Polling that make it Bad for a Democracy

One of the many dysfunctional parts of our political system is our system of polling. We take surveys to find out what people think has a number of problems. This post will just list the problems, and there’ll be a separate article about each problem.

  1. Polling is inaccurate about ballot measures. Answering a poll is very different from voting. So the results differ.
  2. Polls often have poor questions and answers. Surveys are usually spoken to people, so the answers must be simple and often don’t give people much choice. And they’re expensive, so they ask few questions. 
  3. Polling is done mostly nationally, because it’s so expensive. So we can’t use polls to tell us what each state or congressional district wants, so they don’t help us hold members of Congress accountable for representing constituents.
  4. Polling has serious accuracy problems. It’s assumptions about demographics are rarely valid.
  5. Polling doesn’t inform citizens.
  6. Polling is slow. Most repeated polls are only done annually.
  7. Polls are a poor way to find out what society thinks, but they have a rock-solid mathematical foundation. So we settle for poor information about what we want.
  8. Our reliance on polling disempowers us from inventing something better.

The bottom line is that polls are poor, but they’re the best we have. So we rely on them. As citizens, we live with little information about ourselves, and what we want for our future.

In other posts I’ve written about how political accountability depends on us knowing ourselves. Polling leaves us disconnected from ourselves and from our government representatives. They disempower us with respect to holding elected officials accountable.

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