[FOUNTAIN]Using and abusing polls

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[FOUNTAIN]Using and abusing polls

The 1936 U.S. presidential election has a special place in the history of voter polling. The Literary Digest, the most popular magazine at that time, polled 10 million people before the presidential election. The magazine was considered authoritative in polling because it had correctly predicted four presidential elections between 1920 and 1932. According to the magazine's poll, the Republican candidate, Alfred Landon, was expected to win the presidency over Franklin Roosevelt of the Democratic Party, 57 percent to 43 percent. But Roosevelt won the presidency with a 61 percent landslide. The Literary Digest ceased publication because of the repercussions from the faulty poll.

The problem with the Literary Digest's 1936 poll was its sample selection, even though the sample was large. It selected people from such sources as the yellow pages, car registration lists and its own subscriber list. The group was all middle- or upper-class people and supporters of the Republican Party.

In the 1948 U.S. election, the major public opinion research institutes predicted that the Republican, Thomas Dewey, would win the presidency over Harry Truman. Truman beat Dewey by 5 percentage points in the actual election. A photo of Mr. Truman holding the Chicago Tribune that reported a victory by Mr. Dewey is one of the most famous photos in the history of American politics.

In the 2000 U.S. presidential election, the heads of broadcasting networks and news agencies that predicted the Florida election outcome incorrectly were summoned to the Congress for a hearing. Recent surveys about who would win the governors' races in Georgia and Illinois and the senate election in Colorado were also incorrect. Telephone polling is getting questionable now because people increasingly avoid answering their telephones; they screen calls with caller ID or answering machines. But polling is the only way to know what voter sentiment really is. That is why Roh Moo-hyun, the Millennium Democratic Party presidential candidate, and Chung Mong-joon, the National Unity 21 presidential candidate, want to use polls to consolidate their candidacies. But they are deliberately playing with the polls; watching them is like reading Aesop's fable in which a fox put some soup in a very shallow dish for his friend the stork and the stork in return put soup in a long-necked jar for the fox.

The writer is a deputy foreign news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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