Premature Evaluation: Or, Why Internet Polls Aren’t Worth the Paper They Aren’t Even Printed On

As a State Senate candidate, I’ve recently been the subject of a couple of “Internet polls,” in which website visitors are asked to vote for rival candidates. Even to discuss an Internet poll probably grants it too much importance, because there is no relation between actual voter behavior and an Internet poll.

After all, these were polls in which people from outside my district and minors could vote; perhaps more relevantly, someone technologically sophisticated types (which excludes me) might be able to vote multiple times from the same computer — not exactly a scientific gauge of public opinion.

Let’s look more closely at one of these polls. About a month ago, Whit Jones, proprietor of the insidesaline.com news site, polled his readers about the 2010 Senate race in District 22, which included me, my GOP primary opponent Jeremy Hutchinson and Democratic Rep. Dawn Creekmore. When I heard about this poll, I decided to vote once and then focus on more important things in my life: that is, everything else in the universe.

Robovoting

Regrettably, a supporter of mine soon brought to my attention that Hutchinson was accusing me of “robo-voting” in the poll. (Hutchinson made the same accusation in the previous Internet poll that he and I were subjected to; I assume “robo-voting” has something to do with using a computer program that repeatedly casts votes.) I immediately checked the poll, looking forward to an incredibly lopsided vote total in my favor.

Regrettably, Hutchinson’s bizarre (and false) accusation was apparently based on the fact that, at the time he sent out this claim in an e-mail to his supporters, he had received 42 votes and I had received 61 votes on the website. I pity anyone who sees electronic skullduggery as the only possible culprit here. It’s got to be rough to be the guy who thinks being legitimately behind by 19 votes is incomprehensible.

Hutchinson followed his claim of “robo-voting” with a pronunciamento: that he lacked the time or knowledge to do what his opponents were doing. Perhaps he was just being modest: mysteriously, the next time I checked the Internet poll a day or two later, Hutchinson had multiplied his vote total by a factor of approximately 15, as had Creekmore, while my votes had merely doubled. These odd results made me wonder about whether the poll results had any relation to the real world.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one wondering. Just after my votes numbered about 150 and both Hutchinson’s and Creekmore’s topped 600, Whit Jones sent all of us an e-mail that read in part:

Wanted to let you guys know I’ve taken the Senate Web poll off the site immediately and I apologize for the obvious manipulation of the poll by supporters of your respective campaigns.

The company that hosts the site had assured me that safeguards were in place to prevent abuse with polls. Obviously, the safeguards are not in place. For that, I apologize.

At the same time, I am very disappointed that the honor system doesn’t exist and that we cannot conduct a poll that is representative and reflects integrity. People associated with all three campaigns are guilty of manipulating the poll, although IP addresses indicate that two camps were especially abusive.

Jones followed up with another e-mail to the effect that he was considering hosting another Internet poll about the race, one that would not be vulnerable to abuse. I would guess there’s no such animal, having been the subject of two Internet polls that were both cancelled prematurely because there was so much abuse. I have no idea why so many people care so much about who wins American Idol, but clearly many do, and it looks like even that election is vulnerable to cheating via multiple voting despite safeguards. Anonymous Internet voting makes for easily stolen elections.

To echo our president: let me be clear. Internet polls have no relation to reality. Ignore them completely. Unless, of course, you want to cast your vote for me. It’s very important to pay no attention to these ridiculously inaccurate Internet polls. Unless I win. Vote early and vote often!

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23 thoughts on “Premature Evaluation: Or, Why Internet Polls Aren’t Worth the Paper They Aren’t Even Printed On

  • December 1, 2009 at 10:26 am
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    The only thing that could be more pointless than an online poll is this post…

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 10:59 am
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    Dan, Dan, Dan (sigh)…

    Now this is just silliness (or perhaps a better word is hypocrisy). If these polls are meaningless, why bother posting on them? More importantly, if they’re so meaningless, why did you blast your email list TWICE begging for votes. Perhaps the poll was indicative of support. Some say fundraising is too, but who knows?

    Anyway, for readers, here’s Dan Greenberg begging for online poll votes (the same poll he now acts like he wasn’t all that aware of and didn’t matter anyway):

    Dear friend,

     

    As you will probably recall, I did my best during the legislative session to keep you posted on developments of interest to Republicans, and to all of us who are interested in lower taxes, limiting government, traditional family values, and individual freedom. I intend to continue producing and sending this newsletter in 2010, when the legislature goes back into session. But I want to ask you a very small favor.

     

    Could I ask you to click onto this website — http://tolbertreport.com/ — and vote for me in its Internet poll (at the top right side of the page) that involves my election next year? It will only take a moment, and I would be most grateful.

     

    As you may know, I will be running for the state Senate next year. If I am elected, I will be able to continue these newsletters that deliver inside legislative information to you. Some people think doing well in these Internet polls is helpful to political campaigns. That means your vote for me is a small step towards keeping this newsletter alive. So please vote for me at http://tolbertreport.com/ — I’d appreciate it!

    Dan

    no subject)

    > I’m sorry to bother you again with this, but I am just a few votes b

    > ehind and the poll will close tomorrow.

    > Please vote for me at http://www.facebook.com/

    > l/;tolbertreport.com/    (Just click on the link and then vote in 

    > the top right corner.)

    > Tomorrow, depending on the election results, one of us will argue that

    > this Internet poll means nothing and another will argue that it is the

    > most important Internet poll in history.

    > Please help me be the second guy!

    > Thanks, and I won’t bother you anymore about this.

    > Dan

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 11:16 am
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    Hurricane,
    The two emails you cite are from an earlier poll at The Tolbert Report (I also received both), not the Inside Saline poll Greenberg discusses here. And anyway, they suggest that Greenberg recognized even then the same point he makes here — that the web polls are silly and pointless. But it’s a weird psychological quirk that when you’re the target of one of these polls, even if it’s silly and pointless, you can’t help but to invest time and energy in fretting about the results. There’s nothing at stake, but you can’t help yourself.
    D.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 11:18 am
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    “Hurrricane,” you are quite incorrect. I think you are referring to the first Internet poll I was a subject of. When I first heard about that poll, I wasted a fair amount of my time (and the time of others) over the next few days sending out emails to friends, using Facebook to direct friends to the poll, asking others to publicize the poll using their email lists, and so forth. I was concerned that people would take the poll seriously, and as a consequence I took it seriously. In retrospect, even though I was narrowly ahead when the poll closed (by five votes out of a couple thousand), electronic campaigning to win that Internet poll was a huge waste of time. Furthermore, it was a meaningless result, since Jason Tolbert (the engineer of the first poll) – troubled by the conduct of some repeat voters – ended the poll prematurely and made no further reference to it on his website. I ultimately learned that winning an Internet poll is not worth the cost of spending hours of my time hassling friends, acquaintances, and volunteers to vote for me. Others may disagree.

    I always enjoy getting comments from people like “Hurrricane,” especially when they demonstrate a suspicious familiarity with the details of my state senate campaign while getting crucial facts wrong. It is my hope that this augurs well for 2010.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 11:24 am
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    Kinkade,
    I know Dan’s your partner in crime here on the blog, but get real. The issue here is that Greenberg engaged in the exact same behavior he’s trashing his opponent over.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 11:36 am
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    Hurricane,
    “Trashing” seems a rather over-the-top description of what looks to be a fairly straightforward rendering of how things unfolded. And Dan freely admits here that he has engaged in the practice of urging his supporters to vote in these polls in the past, and now claims to have sworn off doing so. Fair enough.

    If this is your definition of “trashing,” then my heavens, you may want to steer clear of the political realm. Things may get a bit rough and tumble for an individual of such dainty sensibilities as yours.
    D.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm
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    I originally wrote a longer article about both polls that was edited down. In retrospect, I wish I had insisted that I keep in a bit about the first poll in the original piece. “Hurrricane” is correct in pointing out that I originally paid a great deal more attention to the first poll, although I like to think I learned from that experience that these polls are largely a waste of time. (“Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other” — Ben Franklin).

    “Hurrricane” is flat wrong to say that I criticized Jeremy Hutchinson for asking for Internet votes. Anyone who thinks I criticized him for that has managed to read what was never written. However, I found Jeremy Hutchinson’s repeated and unfounded accusations against other candidates during the poll quite striking, and “Hurrricane” is wrong to suggest that I “engaged in the exact same behavior,” or anything like it.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 12:22 pm
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    This reeks of hypocrisy. The pot calls the kettle black, a whole blog post worth of calling in fact.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 1:29 pm
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    Kinkade- Your “going rogue” on me! Where are the hot chick photos?

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm
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    “I was for internet polls before I was against them.”

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm
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    Kinkade,

    Enough talk. I don’t want to vote in an internet poll. I want to see something that gives internet polls.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 3:40 pm
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    I demand an Internet poll to determine the next hot chick to be presented on the Arkansas Project.

    I cast 15 votes for the chick that Tiger was allegedly having an affair with.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm
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    Someday, when the technical means exist to curtail the potential for fraud and abuse, online polls will count for something – but at the expense of privacy. In that future scenario, only verified registered voters in District 22 will be allowed to vote in the online poll. Then candidates will start to pay heed to the online polls.

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 5:27 pm
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    Lordy, David…you should have stayed gone

    Reply
  • December 1, 2009 at 5:31 pm
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    Is this all you’ve got, Dan?
    Weak.

    Reply
  • December 2, 2009 at 12:33 am
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    tva, could you add a few more insults into your comments, this would make them even more persuasive

    (not!)

    Reply
  • December 2, 2009 at 11:23 am
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    “What if a blog “post” fell in the forest and no reader was there to read it, would it still make a damn bit of difference?”

    Reply
  • Pingback: Greenberg: Standing Firm Against Internet Polls | The Tolbert Report

  • December 2, 2009 at 7:22 pm
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    There are loads of problems with internet polling, besides just multiple votes and robo voting. They are biased by the type of traffic you get, and a litany of other methodological errors. In short, internet pollare fun to do, but pretty much senseless as any real measure of pretty much anything.

    Reply
  • December 2, 2009 at 11:53 pm
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    Really, folks, aren’t there more worthy issues to be discussed in this all-important senate seat? If the GOP is going to gain 4-5 seats in the State Senate, our candidates need to talk about real issues, like whether we should make UA play ASU in football. Or maybe what the official state planter should be (I support the used tire painted white). Or how about the state fish…oh wait, they already had that debate.

    Reply
  • December 3, 2009 at 10:21 am
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    Ozarks GOP,
    Make that two votes for the used tire painted white. In fact, I think you should run for office on that very platform. Ozarks GOP for Governor, huzzah!
    D.

    Reply

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