COMMENTARY: Polls

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Now that the presidential field has been more-or-less set I've seen a huge increase in the number of news stories related to polls. And not just the polls themselves, but a myriad of items that can generally be classified as "what if" stories. MTSU Professor of Journalism Dr. Larry Burris has more...

What if, for example, Clinton or Trump is able to get a majority of working class Presbyterians with a college education in heartland counties of under 50-thousand population?

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When dealing with polls there are only two options: the polls are either right or they are wrong. The predictions are either accurate or they're not. The polls either predict who the president will be, or they don't.

Now, if the polls really do make accurate predictions about what voters are going to, why do we need elections? Why can't we rely on the scientific methods touted by the statisticians and just call the election today? We could save ourselves a lot of time, money and aggravation and just say the polls are correct and move on with our lives.

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But the polls, of course, are just a snapshot in time, and may not reflect at all what the voters are thinking today, and certainly not what they will do in November. In other words, what if the polls are just flat wrong?

If that is the case, and I suspect it is, then why are newspapers, television networks and web sites doing all these stories based on inaccurate information?

Then there are the polls conducted by the campaigns. And this is even more interesting. Both sides are claiming the real polls are showing a victory for their candidate.

Obviously both sides can't be right, but once again we see all sorts of news reports about these polls, as if they really mean something. Which, of course, they don't.

But here's something we can be sure of: the only poll that counts is the one in November when the voters actually make a choice.

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