A (not so) recent post by Thirdpower reminded me of something I had been meaning to post about for a while now.
Consider every “poll” you see suspect until you can see the source data.
Yes, that is an unquestionably bold statement, but bear with me a moment. To begin with, only 9% of those people called actually comply with the pollsters. Nine percent. This problem compounds itself with the majority of the non-responders typically self-identifying as “Republican” or “Independent”, but the fact remains that those who respond to polls are those who want to take them, which creates a certain level of bias in the results.
To be certain, pollsters have gotten tremendously good at “compensating” for that bias, but once you start normalizing numbers, the bias of the person running – or paying for – the poll rears its ugly little head as well.
However, that was not the real reason I wanted to write this post; instead, there is this small detail that far too many people forget, or never actually knew: pollsters cannot robocall cell phones. Or, rather, they can, but it is illegal for them to do so.
As Pew Research explains, or, really, rationalizes, this legal block drastically increases the costs of polling cell phone owners, because numbers have to be dialed manually, the pollster company might have to reimburse the cell phone user for airtime (less so these days, though), not everyone who has a cell phone is old enough to be polled, people tend to check their caller IDs better on their cell phones, and various other reasons. In the end, the vast majority of pollsters simply do not bother.
How does this affect things? Well, take a look at this report from the CDC (*.pdf warning) regarding how many households tend to be cell-phone-only (i.e. do not have a landline at all) and how that skews the demographics. Do note that this survey was conducted in person, so it it is arguably more accurate than robocall surveys.
In short, 35.8% of households are “wireless-only” as of JUN12, with the overwhelming majority of 18-34 year-olds falling under that heading. Men were slightly (3%) more likely to be wireless-only than women, the Northeast is significantly less likely to be wireless-only, and Hispanics were more likely than non-Hispanics. In all cases, the trend has been steadily increasing since 2003 (when the total wireless-only households were around 3%), and if the current growth continues, it would not surprise me to see the majority of all American households being wireless-only by 2020.
Now, with the younger generations being markedly underrepresented, the Northeast being overrepresented, and various other hiccups and speedbumps along the way, how do you think that will affect the outcome of polls, and specifically polls relating to firearms? The ranks of young recreational shooters are growing every year, and getting more and more vociferous about their hobbies and rights, while the Northeast is notoriously a bastion of authoritarianism and anti-firearms sentiment – one need only look at NYC for a perfect example of both.
Sure, now that the specific error percentages are known, pollsters can account for it – to some extent – but will they, and how will they? The farther and farther you get from the source data, the less accurate information can become; it all depends on who or what is separating you from the originals.
Which brings us back to my original point – if someone is unwilling to share their source data with you, and then show you how they got from point A to point B, I would strongly advise against believing a word they have to say. They might be correct, for all we know, but that is rather the problem – we do not know, and unless someone can demonstrably prove their case to me through a logical chain of facts and reasoning, I simply cannot bring myself to care.
(And, as always, our individual rights – as observed and protected by the Constitution – are not subject to popular opinion or poll approval. Even if the Second Amendment itself were amended out of existence, I, as a living, breathing, thinking human being, would still retain the rights to self-defense and ownership of private property, and from those rights the right to own firearms logically extends.)