[FOUNTAIN]Let's take a poll

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[FOUNTAIN]Let's take a poll

In days gone by it was said that the heart of the people was the heart of heaven. To understand the minds of the people, good rulers employed secret royal inspectors and sometimes went out disguised as peasants to personally hear the words of the citizens.

In this world of diverse opinions, it is hard to find out who's thinking what. This is all the more true in the case of elections when competition is stiff over political and social issues on which people have various opinions. That is why public opinion surveys began.

Public opinion surveys first took place in the United States. These surveys became common by the end of the 19th century and from the beginning of the 20th century news providers actively conducted the surveys.

However, opinion surveys in their early forms were crude matters that were sent to millions of voters by mail and for which accuracy could not be guaranteed. As an example, the Literary Digest magazine in 1916 sent surveys to 1 million people asking about the presidential election that was to take place that year. Only 20,000 people answered, making the margin of error 20 percent. Many see the Gallup Report, established in 1935 by George Gallup, a polling service published weekly, as the beginning of the modern opinion survey. Polling techniques have become much more scientific these days, and thus they are much more reliable.

The five polling services in Germany are known for their accuracy. In fact, they have never been known to predict wrongly in victories of the two major political parties. The field survey they announce at 6 p.m. on election days is also known never to be wrong. Yet the German poll services were humiliated after last Sunday's general elections. On their field surveys, all five services gained different results from what they had previously predicted. Even the results of field surveys on exit polls changed constantly. The election results, which had usually been decided before 8 p.m., were announced far past midnight. The services' confusion was perhaps inevitable with the Social Democratic Party and the coalition formed by the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union having a neck and neck race.

Soon, South Korea will be holding a presidential election. Every announcement of a polling survey is going to make some candidates cry and some laugh. It's times like these when the integrity of the polling services is needed more than ever.

The writer is the Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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