March 10, 2015
Bill Shapard

Here's why people don't trust pollsters

At the end of January, we released the results of a poll about school choice issues, Oklahomans favor various methods of giving parents more control over their child's education. The poll tested various methods of providing parents with more choice in their child's education, which is an issue before the state legislature this session. It used straight forward language, simple explanations, and did not try to change the opinions of poll respondents during the interview.

Plus, we released the question wording and question order, the methodology used, and even exceeded minimal disclosure requirements, as set out by the AAPOR, with a Call Disposition and Rate Calculation Report, which few pollsters in the nation ever release.

A similar poll conducted by the Tarrance Group, a national firm used by Governor Mary Fallin and U.S. Senator James Lankford, found similar results to our poll.

Then along came this poll from Public Opinion Strategies (POS) that was released on Monday. Needless to say, it's results were the opposite of what the Tarrance poll and ours both found.

So why the difference in results?

First of all, the POS poll is an outlier when looking at polling results on school choice in other very red states like Oklahoma, and even in some blue states.

Voters in Mississippi, for example, overwhelmingly support school vouchers: 74 percent favor versus 20 percent who oppose (+54 percentage point favor-oppose gap). Nearly seven out of ten voters in New Jersey, two out of three voters in New York, and about six out of ten voters in Alabama and Arkansas support school vouchers. The smallest favor-oppose gap is +21 percentage points in Kansas, where 57 percent favor and 36 percent oppose vouchers.

And just across the Red River, 66 percent of voters in Texas favor a school voucher program.

Even national polling shows a growing momentum for giving parents greater choice in their child's education.

So, it's a very hard sell to say that Oklahomans, in such a red state that's demographically similar to the surrounding states of Texas, Kansas or Arkansas, would be so contrary to ALL of these polls.

Secondly, when considering the POS poll, the pollster did not release the question wording, the question order, topline or cross-tabulated results, or even a methodology description -- while our poll and all of the polls with links above exceeded the disclosure requirements for public opinion polls.

Why? Perhaps it's because the poll was not designed to measure current public opinion, but change it.

One good example is in their very brief release, the phrase: "once they learn more." This is code from a partisan pollster, such as POS, that the questions were written in such a way to try and "educate" the poll respondent, usually in such a way to get the result that they wanted for their clients, which in this case are organizations that have a vested interest in seeing that parents are NOT given choice in their child's education.

This is pure conjuncture on my part at this point based on limited information, since the pollster didn't even meet our own industry's minimal requirements of public disclosure. Many times, when a pollster doesn't disclose, it's a tell-tale sign that the pollster knows that any independent evaluation of his or her poll would result in such conclusions. This is why disclosure is so important.

At SoonerPoll, our goal is always to be as transparent with our work as possible. In fact, earlier this year we announced that we would provide a Call Disposition and Rate Calculation Report with every publicly released poll, some of the most advanced and in-depth disclosure in public opinion polling to date.

Furthermore, as Oklahoma's only independent non-partisan pollster, it has never been our goal to measure a poll respondent's opinion during the interview "once they've learned more."

Poll results from different pollsters will always vary, but not like this. This POS poll is an example of why people don't trust pollsters.

Hopefully, Oklahomans will also see the differences in these polls once they've learned more.

Bill Shapard
About the Author

Bill Shapard

Bill is the founder of SoonerPoll.com and ShapardResearch, a full service market research firm based in Oklahoma City. Bill began his career in polling after working on major campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats in Oklahoma from 1996 until founding SoonerPoll in 2004.