Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Save this Poll for Dancing

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="321" caption="Some polls should be left for dancing, even if it's spelled wrong."]Some polls should be left for dancing, even if its spelled wrong.[/caption]

I have a love-hate relationship with polls. I love them because they're so official. A bunch of red-blooded Americans, such as myself, voted on a topic and here are the results. This IS how the country feels.

But recently, USA Today/Gallup released a poll results on the $787 billion stimulus that didn't sit right:
"Just 38% of 1,010 respondents in a new USA TODAY/Gallup poll believe the $787 billion in stimulus spending will "make the economy better" in the long term.

Another 38% expect the plan to leave the economy in worse shape, while 22% believe it will have no effect." Courtesy of the LA Times.

Wing nut villagers brought out pitchforks. It was ugly. I really hate this type of poll. Before I explain, read the nation's largest daily newspaper's take on their survey. USA Today picture is even more grim: (Must. Sensationalize. Everything.)
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found 57% of adults say the stimulus package is having no impact on the economy or making it worse. Even more —60% — doubt that the stimulus plan will help the economy in the years ahead, and only 18% say it has done anything to help improve their personal situation.

Sounds doomy. And gloomy.

Here's my problem with this poll. Asking Americans about the stimulus package is the same as asking them about the economy. They are inextricably linked together in the collective psyche of Joe Sixpack, also me.

The problem with asking the public about the effectiveness of the stimulus, a la the economy, is that the economy still sucks right now. Still bleeding jobs, no hiring, etc. Who's going to say everything is working great when things are only status quo — no major improvements, no gold toilets?

Wing nuts are using this as an attack point, but in reality, it doesn't tell the whole story. The stimulus averted us from disaster. But just avoiding complete financial ruin, apparently, isn't good enough. Thankfully, no one knows how bad it would have gotten and no one has to make that comparison. But here we are.

Gripe no. 2: Why would you bother asking the general public (about 1,000 people) about the economy? U.S. economics is complex. It's an international machine with hundreds of thousands of intricate facets and irregularities.

John Q. Public has problems changing the time on his car stereo, let alone deciphering meaning from a three-quarter trillion dollar infusion of capital to stave off the collapse of a delicate financial system. Asking if it worked or not is an oversimplification.

So here we are: Did the stimulus work? Who should we ask for an intelligent answer. Why NOT poll 1,000 economists?

Well, who the hell has time to report facts? Almost no one. Because, honestly, the facts aren't that interesting.

What paper would dare, risking readers, in this terrible economic climate, to write a boring story? God bless the uninteresting U.S. News & World Report for getting the story right:

Mixed, Incomplete Economic Results So Far on Obama’s Stimulus

There are signs of hope, but there’s a way to go

Huh? Oh, sorry. Fell asleep. But that headline and subhead nail it. Whole story done. Essentially, we'll let you know when we KNOW more.

Instead we get polls. Public opinion polls that tell us nothing other than the feeling de jour. Newspapers should use caution when regurgitating survey results, especially when an expert opinion might be more informative for readers.