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A toll for polls

Jason Norwood-Young
Jason Norwood-Young
2020-11-06

The failure, for the second US Presidential election in a row, of polling, has plenty of people asking whether polls are useless, damaging, or both. But this isn’t a new conversation. In one of many classic examples, the 1948 Truman vs Dewey polling in favour of Dewey convinced the media so much that the Chicago Daily Tribune ran the headline “Dewey defeats Truman“, resulting in a famous photograph of Truman holding up the headline, sporting a broad grin.

This asks the question, again, whether polls should be dumped. The Guardian’s Mona Chalabi (usually in Naked Data for her brilliant data visualisations) opines that you can’t really split 240 million people into neat little pies. And Slate has a fascinating interview with the author of Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in U.S. Presidential Elections, W. Joseph Campbell, who notes that concerns about polling aren’t new, but polls are still a long way from dead.

“Journalists will continue to create charts predicting future presidents as long as readers continue to demand them. I do not know how many times polls have to be wrong or how wrong they have to be for us to finally walk away from the dangerous seduction of predicting political outcomes. Seeing graphics that tell us the future is hypnotic, but it is very important to be awake. Especially now.”

Mona Chalabi, The Guardian

Read Chalabi’s opinion piece here and the interview with Campbell here.

Jason Norwood-Young
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