Poll Shows Public Concerns over Media Ownership, but I’m Still Suspicious of Polls

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows 50% of respondents saying that allowing companies to own more broadcast and newspaper operations in the same city will have a negative effect, with only 10 percent said that would have a positive effect. This is up from a similar poll done in February in which a about a third said in February that the concentrated ownership of media outlets in a city would have a negative effect.

Putting aside for a moment the problems with polling, these results would seem to indicate that a growing number of people are becoming aware of media ownership issues in a way and in numbers that arguably has not been seen in at least the last twenty years. It seems, especially, that the public interest campaigns of the last few months surrounding the FCC’s recent revision of media ownership rules are starting to pay off in terms of public awareness, even if they had less influence on the FCC.

However, the obvious question is how to turn that awareness into action — is this enough to pressure our lawmakers into real change?

Shifting subjects, I must admit that I would be remiss if I didn’t come forward with my criticism of polling in general, even though the results of this particular poll are good news to me. The biggest problem I have is — who is being polled?

Like most opinion polls, this one was conducted by telephone, and although the pollsters certainly believe this sample to be representative, I think this is becoming less so.

First, ask yourself — who has telephones? Sure, most people have a telephone, but in many cases the poorest families do not. And, increasingly, lots of people use cellphones much more often than, or instead of regular land-line telephones. By and large, these polls are limited to listed telephone numbers, so those using cell phones and having unlisted numbers won’t be polled.

Second, who answers their phones and is willing to participate in a poll? Again, it appears to me that more people screen their calls, use their caller ID, and also refuse to deal with pollsters and telemarketers. And so, those folks don’t get polled, either.

So what you end up with is a growing number of people who are completely outside the bounds of telephone polls, and I’d argue that these people tend to fall into two groups: the young and the poor. Who do I think is more likely to answer a poll? Older people, especially the elderly are most often the victims of phone fraud indeed because they answer their phones and will talk to whomever calls, and so they’re probably overrepresented. Beyond that, probably middle-income people who don’t use much technology.

In some cases pollsters do indeed compensate for these problems, but not always. The problem is, there’s no way to know what compensation has been done. Especially with so-called “overnight polls” done for news organizations, they can’t compensate because they’ve got no time.

Therefore, if you’re a member of one of the groups being missed by pollsters, then you start to have one reason why your opinions are increasingly unrepresented in polls, and increasingly ignored by policymakers who watch those polls.

Beyond these representation issues one of my major gripes with polls is how they’re used by the mainstream press. Although I think they can be useful gauges of public opinions, most so-called “news polls” are simply “make-news.”

That is, they are ways that a news organization can cheaply make exclusive news stories that are easy to cover. No travelling and no pesky reporting required. Just pay the pollsters and report the results. It’s much easier and cheaper than sending out an investigative reporter to dig up some news that might actually affect our daily lives.

All this endless polling just brings on more polls, since the only way that one TV network can compete with another’s polls is to do its own. But nobody asks, what value is that poll? How does that poll help me make better decisions in my daily life and in my political life?

No, instead it’s just another form of market research for interest groups, industry and politicians who are looking to dupe…er, sell us into something.

So, that’s why you won’t read too many blog entries reacting to polls here on mediageek, because by-and-large I think they’re bullshit make-news that stand in place of reporting, thinking about and discussing real events and problems.






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