A poet in China complains her country has weaker communications skills than Americans and therefore is less able to promote its core values. Students in China, she says, are taught by rote rather than encouraged to use creativity and imagination. (“Shall We Teach Creativity?” by Qi Qian, Huanqiu, excerpted in The Week, April 15, 2016 pg. 15.) Disney, she adds, does an excellent job of telling and retelling stories about the American dream, the kind where the individual overcomes obstacles through determination and an adherence to principles. Without that blending of storytelling and values, Qian fears China’s culture won’t flourish.
A person doesn’t have to look far in this election season to find examples that illustrate Qian’s thesis. We Americans are acquainted with the comingling of storytelling and myths from our candidates. The same inventiveness flourishes in media news. But what may surprise us is that pollsters have become creative, too.
Polling data today leaves gaps in the information collected. First, the public increasingly refuses to answer polls. In 1970, an 80% response was considered good. Today, voice mail and caller ID allow people to avoid surveys and the current response rate is 8%. (“The problem with polls,” The Week, April 15, 2016 pg. 11.)
Second, people take their phone numbers with them wherever they move to another state. That means a pollster can no longer be certain a voter with a New York prefix is living in that state or Anchorage, Alaska. Third, robo calls are permitted on landline but not wireless phones. Since the majority of people who use landlines are elderly, demographics get skewed.
As predictors of winners and loser in elections, pollsters seem to rely upon their intuition as much as they do upon their faulty data. If true, Qian should be wary about what she wishes for.