Poll Finds Public Skeptical about Opinion Surveys; Sees Press Distorting Responses

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

We're not just robotic respondents: Americans are far more discerning about opinion surveys than wily pollsters might credit them. Some folks even follow those assorted statistics like a sport.

So says a new poll - about polling.

The public appears to have some healthy skepticism. More than two-thirds of us - 68 percent - say that surveys are mishandled by the press. Though polls may be accurate, many say news outlets distort results by reporting them in a misleading or biased context, according to findings released Friday by the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute.

The public skittishness about polls is of special interest in a presidential election year, proof that the "debacle" of 2000 has yet to be forgotten. That election night, George W. Bush and Al Gore were alternately and erroneously pronounced the victor in the White House race by news organizations eager for a scoop. Broadcasters in particular made premature calls based on exit polls alone - rattling voter confidence and putting press credibility in question.

The failure also changed the face of coverage. In every national election since then, chastened journalists vowed to be accurate rather than simply first.

The public also does not buy the claims of politicians who insist they ignore poll results when crafting policy or campaign strategy, the Sacred Heart survey found. "Over three-quarters - 77 percent - said candidates and elected officials who say they don't listen to polls are lying," it said. …