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Silly me.

I am pondering the results of a recent Reppiks Independent Poll that showed that 40 percent of eligible North Iowa voters would support President Trump’s re-election regardless of who he was running against; 40 percent said they will vote against him regardless of who he is running against; and 20 percent said it would depend on who he was running against.

Interesting statistics and fodder for political junkies of all persuasions – but there are more cultural lessons to be learned from it than political ones.

This so-called poll is one that I conducted on my own through conversations with friends and associates in grocery lines, coffee shops and restaurants. I made up the name “Reppiks” just for this column to give the poll some credibility. The name is actually Skipper spelled backwards. And as for those poll results – they are based on surveying 20 people, a cross-section of men and women but all of them white, retired and reasonably comfortable financially.

John Skipper mug 2

Skipper

My little poll is hardly a representative sampling of public opinion – and that’s the point. After the Democratic debate last week, many of us wondered what the polls would show afterward – who gained support, who lost support, did anyone emerge from the pack?

And sure enough, there were overnight polls that showed some impact for candidates, both negative and positive. But who took part in these “overnight” polls – and how many people – 100? 500?, 1,000? How old are they? How many men, how many women? How many people of color? Should we really care about the results?

Where do they find these people who were polled? I’ve never been polled. Not by Gallup, not by Harris, not by USA Today, not by CBS, not by Quinnipac, not by Monmouth, not by Surveymonkey. Have you?

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Here’s another question. Suppose that prior to the last mayoral election in Mason City, a pollster stood in the plaza north of Southbridge Mall, with a clipboard in hand, and asked passers-by who they were supporting in the upcoming election. Would you have taken part in the poll?

If you declined, you showed another way the survey could be flawed – because polls never indicate the number of people who chose not to participate.

If the poll results on the mayoral election were published, would they have influenced your vote?

“Exit polls” are a whole different story but with the same flaws. In 1984, prior to the Democratic primary between Walter Mondale and Gary Hart, Mike Royko, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune, urged his readers to lie if they were asked to take part in an exit poll. He thought they were distrustful and harmful so he thought he would try to make them also inaccurate.

It didn’t work but even back then, Royko believed polls had become too big a part of the process. “They’ve taken politics away from the politicians and the voters,” he wrote. Something to think about.

In the meantime, beware of those Reppiks Independent pollsters.

Silly me.

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John Skipper retired from the Globe Gazette in February 2018 after 52 years in newspapers, most of that in Mason City covering North Iowa government and politics.

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