What Does a Debate Poll Mean When 60% of Respondents Didn’t Watch It?

For the record, I’ve never really based what I should think and believe on what polls say. I opposed the Iraq War when it was popular, I opposed the Patriot Act when it was popular. I opposed torture when it was popular. I opposed our other Excellent Syraqistan Adventures when they were popular.

Popularity as an indicator of just and right action might be overrated.

So I really don’t care what the polls say about who won the recent Democratic debate–that doesn’t alleviate my concerns about the front runner Clinton (sadly, in a few years, I think I’ll be saying I told you so). But if you’re going to conduct a poll, it should at least reveal relevant information–and that information should be relayed accurately. Consider this poll by NBC/SurveyMonkey which reports the following:

Clinton finished at the top of the list with 56 percent polled saying she did the best in the debate; Bernie Sanders came in second with 33 percent. Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee each received 1 percent of the vote, and less than 1 percent of those polled chose Jim Webb.

But here are the actual results:


You’ll note that sixty percent of respondents whose opinions were considered didn’t watch the debate–they heard and read about it. First of all, this defines the notion of echo chamber. The press declares Clinton won, so people say Clinton won, thus proving Clinton. It’s baked into the cake.

Second, it would have been trivial to break apart how each candidate did based on whether respondents watched the debate, or heard/read about it. It’s scientific malpractice not to report this. It’s very important, because if Clinton did worse with debate watchers, as three separate focus groups suggest, that’s something voters should also know. Despite what the pundits have declared, maybe humans think she’s not a very good debater–we simply don’t know. At some point, she’s not going to debate a mensch like Bernie Sanders who went out of his way to not attack her, but a Republican who will attack her.

Oddly enough, none of the wonky pundits read the polling details, which I’m sure is not a result of confirmation bias at all.

And if you’re a staunch Clinton supporter who feels good about these polling data, what they might (note the caveat) suggest is that a majority of people with opinions regarding Clinton base them on what the political press corps thinks. Do you think that would end well? Don’t think for a moment that once Sanders is knocked out, they will still retain their newly-found feelings of respect and warmth for her.

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