ABC Pollster takes on 2012 Election
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012
ABC pollster Gary Langer spoke during Common Hour on Wednesday afternoon. He said students need to look for solid sources of information, because many election polls are misleading. Mickelle Yeates photo (from the Utah Statesman Online)
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ABC Pollster takes on 2012 Election
USU [Utah State University] hosted Gary Langer, president of Langer Research Associates, at USU’s second university-wide Common Hour on Wednesday.
Around 300 students came to hear the ABC News pollster speak about the country’s trending polls. This time of year, Langer said his job revolves around election polls.
Langer explained the process of gathering data and turning it into intelligence.
“Each time we produce a product, we have one time to get right,” he said.
Langer said this is especially important in survey research. The perception people receive from his results can be easily misinterpreted. He said on the other hand, data can add substance to an individual’s conversation.
“Running with data is like running with scissors,” he said. “Polls can’t be boiled down to a single number.”
Langer said ultimately it quantifies the position of someone, but polling is methodology that can be seriously misused.
He said results of a survey can be modified and skewed to fit the results of the surveyors wants. Students especially need to be weary of robo polls and opt-in online surveys, and Langer suggested students look for validated, replicated intelligence.
Langer showed the audience a map from the 2008 presidential election popular vote. He then showed the same map that had been skewed. The map was popular vote according to county rather than states, and the area of the county reflected population rather than geography. The result was that some highly populated but geographically small counties were extremely large.
Langer pointed out the difference in data between the two maps. The first one was mostly red, and could give someone the wrong idea about which party won the election. The second map gave accurate data about the results of the presidential race, but it no longer looked like the U.S.
Langer said the economy is the number one factor in the presidential election this year.
“When people are discontent economically, they act on it politically,” Langer
Langer said since the economy has not improved a significant amount and unemployment is higher than it was when President Obama first took office, Mitt Romney has a chance.
Langer said unfortunately for Romney the economic discontent has eased a bit since 2010, according to his polls. People believe the current president is more empathic to middle class America.
“What does this all means, I don’t know,” Langer said.
He pointed out that polls still cannot answer the real question on everyone’s mind: Who will be the winner of the presidential election?
“Stop and evaluate data,” Langer said. “Whatever career you pursue beyond this university, you will encounter it.”
Luke Ensign, Arts and Lectures director on the Student Tradition and Activities Board, said he was happy with the turnout to the event.
“It was a little more niche, so it targeted less students,” Ensign said. “But I think the subject matter was very pertinent to what’s going on in the country.”
Ensign said he hopes to increase the attendance of Common Hour. He said he’s learned from the last two events, and the board plans to do more to get the word out.
“We need to do a better job advertising, and we have already made plans to change that,” Ensign said.
Anna Harris, a senior in political science, said this was her first time attending the Common Hour event. She was drawn to the event after reading the Langer’s bio in the email sent at the student body.
“It was definitely in my interest to attend,” Harris said.
Jeris Kendall is currently working on his master’s degree in political science. He is in a research design class and recently worked on a project where involving polling.
“I wanted to see what was available in field,” Kendall said. “There’s a more to it than I thought, so it was cool.”