Monday, January 13, 2003

Voter News Service Ends After Failures
News groups disband Voter News Service
On CNN - Politics via News Is Free
On AP Politics via News Is Free

"Six major news organizations announced Monday they are disbanding Voter News Service, the consortium they had built to count votes and conduct surveys on Election Day. The decision follows two major election-night failures in a row by VNS."

Coupla things.

VNS never did get the nation-wide trend toward early voting. Exit polls do not catch people who vote before Election Day. In my county that's been nearly 40 percent the last two general elections.

The total meltdown of the VNS exit poll last November deserved more attention. What happened? Was it logistical problems on the VNS end?

Or - more likely - are so many people refusing to answer that the data is useless?

Politics may be entering the post-polling era. That's a huge, huge, under-reported story.

Polling as a tool has one weakness: it depends on a stastically average group of people responding accurately. And the public is hitting the burnout point. With higher refusal rates, talk of state and national no-call lists, caller IDs, and unlisted cell phones replacing wired lines for more and more people, it's becoming impossible to get an accurate sample of voter opinion. People who refuse, avoid or are missed by polls are different from people who answer them. We just don't know exactly how.

This has huge implications for the political world. (Not to mention the world of commerce, so I won't mention it.) Governing by popularity poll will become impossible because the polls will be unreliable. Politicians will need to adapt, either by working without measures of public sentiment... or by finding new measurement tools.

The tools of the past eventually wear out. Torchlight parades, five hour Chautauqua style campaign speeches, whistlestop train tours, brokered conventions - all these are now just quaint memories. Public opinion polling could join them if it stops working.

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