Scott Stanford: Questions about our questions

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Longtime local Keith Skytta, who served on this newspaper's editorial board a few winters back, e-mailed me this week with questions about our Question of the Week.

"After much deep thought on who I would cast my vote for sheriff, (I) bring up the question, 'how do you know the respondents are registered voters?'" Keith wrote. "Accurate polling of registered voters is one thing but 'opinion polling' may cast a shadow over future elections, especially if one party organization decides to play dirty and stuffs the opinion box."

Keith was referring to this week's question - If the election for Routt County Sheriff were today, would you vote for Garrett Wiggins or Gary Wall? As of Wednesday night, 375 people had voted online and 59 percent answered "Gary Wall."

Does this mean Gary Wall is going to be the next sheriff? Don't use our poll to bet on it.

Keith is right - I have no way of knowing whether the respondents in our poll are registered voters. And he also is right about ballot stuffing - we have seen e-mails from both parties urging their members to vote early, and to vote often, in our Question of the Week when the question deals with party candidates in an election.

Let me reiterate: Our Question of the Week is not a scientific survey. That's why we include the following note: "This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate."

The Question of the Week is aimed primarily at our online users, though readers can call in their answers. Of course, that means that some readers probably vote both ways.

Our program tracks the computer from which we receive votes and blocks the same computer from voting more than once. Of course, the program can't prevent the same person from voting from multiple computers. Also, tech-savvy participants know how to beat the program and vote multiple times from the same computer.

The bottom line? The Question of the Week is meant to be fun and interactive, but the results cannot be used as evidence of community support for an argument, an issue or a candidate.

In 2004, we did phone surveys of registered voters prior to the election. We worked hard to make sure we got a random but representative sample of the community. Not surprisingly, our survey results were very close to the actual results of the election. I hope we can do some similar polling prior to this election.

In the meantime, we'll keep asking questions of the week that are similar to what you'll see on the ballot. Just don't be surprised when the actual results are different than the online poll results.

- From the Editor appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Send questions to Scott Stanford at sstanford@steamboatpilot.com, or call him at 871-4221.

Comments

Magpie 7 years, 12 months ago

I would like you to change your policy about asking Questions of the Week that have to do with upcomming elections. As you point out, these polls are less than accurate, but I think poll information like this just before an upcoming election can definitely have an impact on voters (especailly undecided ones). To me, this somewhat undermines the democratic process. Keep having articles, etc. but leave the opinion polls out of elections. There are plenty of other things to run polls about.

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JazzSlave 7 years, 12 months ago

Magpie

Can you cite any evidence that a small newspaper's election polls impact the outcome, or is this just an unstubstantiated opinion?

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Magpie 7 years, 12 months ago

Like I said "I think" and "To me"

This is MY opinion and I have no problem owning it. I never claimed that it was anything else.

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Magpie 7 years, 12 months ago

As for "a small newspaper," this paper is the local paper and it is asking about local elections. In that respect it is not small in its impact. Obviuosly, the impact this paper has on a statewide or national election is far less.

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vic 7 years, 12 months ago

I find it difficult to believe that a local newspaper poll could have an effect on an actual election. If "voters" are basing their decision on what a handful of pollsters are indicating, then they, in my opinion, are not educating themselves on the issues and should not be voting. Personally, I find it rather hilarious that Wall is ahead (last I checked the poll). Rather doubtful he would actually win over Wiggins. I might add, the "poll" will not sway my vote one way or the other. I like the questions and like that they address what is on the current agenda.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 12 months ago

Vic- It's possible to influence it though. Maybe not this far ahead, but yes: some people will amazingly enough base their decisions on absurd opinion polls.

We all know that there is a "faction" of people who also vote when "prompted" by a certain entity on these polls. Otherwise, we'd see these polls average 300 to 400 votes each week, instead of less than 50 except for the contentious ones.

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