David R. Henderson  

Alvin Rabushka on the New Bias in Polling

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The "Shy Tory Voter" phenomenon has come to America.
So writes my Hoover colleague Alvin Rabushka. Alvin goes on to explain as follows:
The universality of political correctness, which means that you cannot speak the truth on any controversial topic, because someone or some group will say it is hurtful, has filtered down to the business of polling. Voters are increasingly lying to pollsters to avoid saying anything that might be deemed hurtful, but have no such concerns in the quiet secrecy of the polling booth.
I don't know if he's right, but he could be right. It's certainly an interesting hypothesis. If he is right, that has huge implications.

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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory

COMMENTS (11 to date)
E. Harding writes:

Or, alternatively, the samples given to pollsters are no longer as representative, as fewer people answer telephone calls.

jon writes:
If he is right, that has huge implications.

If he is right, does that mean Trump is even farther ahead in the polls?

But I agree with E. Harding, who is being polled (people who still have land lines, people who will pick-up for an unrecognized number, people who will sit through automated questions from a robo-caller) is at least as important as whether the people being polled are willing to answer honestly.

Max M writes:

It is exceedingly difficult to hold contradictory one view while outwardly expressing another one. Most people cannot live this duplicitous life for long. Eventually the person ends up reconciling the contradiction, and it's usually in favor of the view they are forced to hold externally.

MikeDC writes:

I don't understand why political correctness would induce someone to lie to a pollster because there's no personal risk in doing so.

Political correctness works because it imposes a cost on someone when they step out of line, but there's no cost in saying the wrong thing to pollsters.

If we're allowing rank speculation, I'd argue people are more sophisticated than we assume. Many of them wouldn't actually vote for Trump, but by polling that they would, they can influence the direction of discourse and the nomination process.

Roger McKinney writes:

Lying on surveys has been a problem from the beginning of surveys. Back in the 60s, Nielsen tracked TV viewership with logs that the views kept themselves. Then when Nielsen got set top boxes that automatically tracked the TV shows they watched Nielsen learned that those viewers had been lying on the logs for decades.

Recently, Yahoo asked viewers what they read most on the site and politics came out on top. So Yahoo featured more political news and viewership plummeted. Then they had a company do a statistical analysis of pages visited and found that people were actually viewing stories about pop stars and the Kardashians.

No one knows why people lie on surveys, but it's pervasive. Good surveyors have learned to sneak up on answers by asking questions from several different perspectives so they can discover contradictions which indicate lying.

BC writes:

Discrepancies between polls and betting markets should provide some signals when the polls are wrong, at least for measuring public opinion about candidates. Measuring public opinion about (non-ballot) issues might be difficult if people are giving "politically correct" answers rather than true opinions.

Nathan W writes:

PC doesn't stop free speech on controversial topics. It forces people to seek respectful language even when criticizing those who need to do better.

Urstoff writes:

Nathan W, see the spate of recent protests at universities over speakers with whom the PC crowd disagrees with (and the concurrent setting up of "safe spaces", as if a speaker in classroom 308 is going to suddenly make your dorm room or the library unsafe). There is a significant branch of the PC movement that has always been about shutting down speech they don't like (E.O. Wilson can tell you all about that when people used to pull the fire alarms on his talks on sociobiology or even run in and dump water on his head).

Often the least respectful people are those that are part of the PC movement (see the recent video of a Yale student losing her mind at a university professor).

Anonymous writes:

@Nathan W

Except when what is deemed PC is not a turn of phrase but an idea. At which point it is no longer possible to phrase the idea in a way that does not offend people because the idea itself is what's at fault.

Nathan W writes:

Speaking against speech you don't like is free speech.

Free speech is protected by law, by that doesn't mean that anyone any time has to lend their space to air views they don't want to hear.

Consider a church insisting that they will not rent space to another religious group.

Tom West writes:

It is exceedingly difficult to hold contradictory one view while outwardly expressing another one. Most people cannot live this duplicitous life for long.

And the views they feel forced to give lip-service to are often genuinely upheld by their children.

At least in my neck of the woods (middle-class urban Canada), it's been 2-3 decades since PC made saying racist things verboten in unvetted company.

Now I go to the school yard, and not only do I not hear the casual racism of my youth, but the (under 10) kids don't even know what the words mean...

The casual racism of the parents just didn't make it to their children.

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