A Case Study: Here Is Why We Cannot Trust Polls And Pollsters


The Marist polling organization, which also had a presidential race poll out over the weekend, was widely publicized recently for its poll asking fans of professional sports why they weren’t following them as they had in past seasons. (The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball have seen significant TV ratings drops in their respective weird, pandemic-marred seasons.) The headlines in one news source after another focused on a single “finding”: the invasion of political posturing by athletes had not played the primary role in driving fans away. “No, the increased political activism in professional sports doesn’t explain the ratings decline,” wrote Yahoo Sports, repeated by AOL. “And no, the sports where that activism is the most pronounced, like the NBA, haven’t suffered more in comparison.”

That may or may not be true, but the Marist poll cited didn’t indicate either of those conclusions, because those polled were not asked about either issue with sufficient precision or clarity.

As Ethics Alarms has been discussing since Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the National Anthem for no apparent reason (or at least not one that he could explain clearly), what sports fans object to is not professional athletes engaging in political activism by stating their views, however ignorant or ill-considered, or shooting off their metaphorical mouths on social media. What sports fans don’t like and don’t want to pay for or waste time absorbing (and what I personally resent) is political posturing and advocacy on the field, before and during games, in ways that interfere with the entertainment value of the sports themselves.

The Marist poll didn’t ask about any of that, rendering it useless and misleading. Here was what the poll did ask: “Please tell me if each of the following has made you more likely to watch sports broadcasts, less likely, or has it not made any difference in how often you watch live sports broadcasts this year?,” with the sole option related to politics being, “Athletes speaking out on political issues.”

That answer merely carries on the false argument being pushed by “woke” pundits and constitutional ignoramuses from the start of “Kneegate”: Critics are trying to stifle athletes’ First Amendment right to free speech! Not true, and it was never true. Athletes can spout political opinions all they want, like any other citizens—in the public square, on radio and TV talk shows, on social media, in their living rooms, in bars, around the campfire. We don’t care. We don’t admire athletes for their public policy acumen. The sports stars are not welcome, however, any more than bank tellers, auto repair experts and typing teachers are, to use their workplace as a platform to harangue customers and patrons.

The professional sports franchises marred the entertainment experience of their fans when they trembled in terror from the possibility of player union disfavor and turned their stadiums, ballparks and arenas into Black Lives Matter festivals. That is not the same thing as “Athletes speaking out on political issues.” It’s not even close. Yet not only did the pollsters at Marist not ask the key question, the media’s reporting on the poll results uncritically represented that it did.

That is why we cannot trust polls. The relevant cliche is “garbage in, garbage out.” It would also help if those reporting on the garbage out had the perception to point out “This is garbage.”

13 thoughts on “A Case Study: Here Is Why We Cannot Trust Polls And Pollsters

  1. The question is, who designs these questions, and are they designed to prove a point or to actually find out information? And what about subtle and not-so-subtle political commentary on the job, like city employees wearing masks that say “Black Lives Matter,” which is rampant in most of the cities in NJ, or the coffee shop clerk who spotted my thin blue line lapel pin and wrote “ACAB” on my coffee cup?

        • I imagine you didn’t take that very well, as you shouldn’t. At what point did you ask the manager to explain where some stupid barrista got the idea to display such arrogance by writing that on your cup? And, when and how much did the manager refund your purchase, and did the manager reprimand the woke little bastard for abusing its customers? Oh, and did you get a chance to ring the barrista’s neck?


          • Shortly after. I told him I take my coffee with a lot of things, but a side of nasty liberal politics isn’t one of them. He agreed to give me another cup he brewed himself, free of charge, and to have a little talk with the POS. I didn’t stick around, since I had someplace I needed to be, but as I walked to the car I saw him chewing the kid out. Haven’t seen that barista since, and a sign has since popped up on the wall to the effect that all customers are entitled to be treated respectfully, and if you are not, speak up.

  2. I generally avoid polls as a matter of policy, though I’m usually curious about how they’re written. Most of the polls I receive either do not know how to ask the questions in a way that, as Jack explains, elicit a meaningful response (similar to someone requiring a yes or no answer to a question which cannot be answered in that manner). Or they are so hopelessly and intentionally biased in one direction that again, the available answers simply don’t do the question justice and provide “garbage” statistics. In that latter case, those who wrote the polls also either do not see their own bias in the least, and so do not see the poll as “garbage”, or are effectively only asking rhetorical questions with the answers they want to prove baked into the options. I want to say that in the case of more left-leaning polls the writers are entirely unaware of any bias being baked into the poll, and so wouldn’t know “garbage” if it bit them.

  3. “What sports fans don’t like and don’t want to pay for or waste time absorbing (and what I personally resent) is political posturing and advocacy on the field, before and during games, in ways that interfere with the entertainment value of the sports themselves.”


    As for polls, they, too, are now merely another tradition that has changed in the society – like the traditions of what players and audiences will soon be expected to perform – and specifically for the sake of steering the culture of the country. It’s all about social engineering. And so it shall be, forever and ever, awymyn.

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