Back in the 1970s, yours truly for a college class assignment was tasked to verify the Nielsen TV ratings. Armed with a trusty landline phone and Bell System service (archaic by today’s standards), I dutifully called people throughout southern New Jersey, asking them what they were watching on TV at that moment and comparing their viewing habits to “the ratings.”
The results were unexpected.
At that time, the sitcom “Maude,” a spin-off of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking “All in The Family,” was considered a highly rated show. Problem was, my results didn’t tally with the ratings. Indeed, I couldn’t find a single person within a 50-mile radius of where I was situated who watched the show.
I theorized that people whose TV’s were being monitored for polling purposes felt that they had to view certain shows for reasons other than personal interest and/or amusement. Thus, some people under the Nielsen microscope were watching a socially-relevant show by the makers of “All in the Family” because they (and society) ought to watch it, not because they actually wanted to.
I never managed to prove my hypothesis, but it underscores the many problems faced by pollsters.
Perhaps the most spectacular failure by “scientific” pollsters was the 1948 U.S. presidential election. More than a decade previously, in 1935, George Gallup had developed so-called quota sampling, where a number of important public characteristics are identified as categories (men, women, whites, blacks, urban, rural, age below 40, age above 40, etc.) and a certain number of people are interviewed in each category. Live interviewers would be given a set of quotas of people to interview such as, “five white women over the age of 40 living in an urban area.”
Quota sampling had correctly predicted the presidential elections of 1936, 1940, and 1944.
For the 1948 election, Gallup predicted that Republican Thomas Dewey would get 50 percent of the vote; Harry Truman would receive 44 percent; and third-party candidates Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace would garner 6 percent.
When the results of the 1948 election were tallied, however, the proportions of the results were nearly a reversal of the predictions: 50 percent voted for Truman, 45 percent for Dewey, and 5 percent for the third-party candidates.
The Chicago Tribune, certain that Truman would lose, went to press on Nov. 4, 1948, the edition emblazoned with the now-famous headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Mathematicians would say that for quota sampling to be truly effective, one would need to formulate practically an infinite number of categories to guard against sample bias.
Fortunately, the sophistication of polling has improved considerably in recent years.
For example, visitors to Newsmax.com are probably familiar with the many “Newsmax/Zogby” political polls that have appeared on this website.
John Zogby, founder of the Zogby Poll and senior analyst, Zogby Analytics, is a master pollster. His presidential polling remains among the most accurate through five elections.
To summarize his amazingly extensive biography: He’s served as an on-air election analyst for NBC News, BBC, CBC, ABC (Australia), and has been featured by the Foreign Press Center in Washington every election night since 1998.
He writes weekly columns on Forbes.com, and his analytical expertise has been published on the opinion pages on The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times. A commissioner for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Smart Power, Zogby has served on the board of the Arab American Institute, and has held positions as senior advisor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and as the first senior fellow of the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.
As chairman of Sudan Sunrise, Zogby works to continue the vision of NBA player Manute Bol to bring peace to Sudan through education.
Recently, Zogby was honored at the 2014 Fulbright Awards Dinner, held in the Waldorf Astoria Grand Ballroom on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. The dinner, honoring both Fulbright Program grantees and august honorees (such as Zogby), is where people of all ages are venerated who have furthered peace and international understanding through their lives and work. It all unfolds before an audience of about 500 international leaders in business, higher education, the arts and government.
The Fulbright Awards dinner can be a bit intimidating for the unprepared, as one can come upon veritable youngsters engorged with erudition and spouting forth on matters as diverse as human rights, international economics, and abstract quantum physics — not just intellectually reprising what they learned in the elite, historic halls of academe, but bubbling with original, insightful and innovative ideas worthy of great thinkers.
Moreover, just as winning the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes Award is a good indicator as to whether an actor is going to win an Oscar, being selected by the Fulbright Program is a great prognosticator as to whether someone will go on to win the Nobel Prize: 53 Fulbright alumni from 13 countries have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 28 alumni are MacArthur Foundation fellows, 80 alumni received Pulitzer Prizes and 29 Fulbright alumni have served as heads of state or government.
At left is a photo of John Zogby after he received the prestigious award. The New York Times best-selling author and Kennedy scholar Laurence Leamer is on the left, Zogby is at the center, and to the right is psychotherapist, philosopher and former Yale professor Dr. G. Heath King, who represented Chris Ruddy and Newsmax at the Fulbright Awards dinner.
Richard Grigonis is an internationally known technology editor and writer. He was executive editor of Technology Management Corporation’s IP Communications Group of magazines from 2006 to 2009. The author of five books on computers and telecom, including the highly influential Computer Telephony Encyclopedia (2000), he was the chief technical editor of Harry Newton's Computer Telephony magazine (later retitled Communications Convergence after its acquisition by Miller Freeman/CMP Media) from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. Read more reports from Richard Grigonis — Click Here Now
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