Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: Bastardizing George Gallup’s Work

Posted at 9:49 am, August 9th, 2011
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

It’s difficult to know what is more absurd: the actual description of the Republican so-called straw poll this weekend in Ames, Ia., or the seriousness with which the press is taking the stunt. George Will spent a recent column giving credence to the Ames goings-on by discussing it dead-pan even while conceding the “zaniness of the exercise.” More than 800 journalists from far and wide are converging on Ames to cover the craziness.

All anyone really needs to know about the money-raiser disguised as a straw poll is that there are 759,000 registered Republicans in Iowa and that typically fewer than 11,000 are counted in the Iowa Republican Party’s straw poll. Of course, much smaller samples can be statistically valid, but no one even pretends that what they do in Ames has a scientific basis. It’s almost a sacrilege that this misuse of polling is taking place in the state where George H. Gallup, as a graduate student at the University of Iowa, did his pioneering work on the measurement of public opinion.

Gallup showed that by carefully selecting samples it is possible to get valid measures of what large numbers of people are thinking. The three-ring political circus in Ames, built around with the straw-poll centerpiece, represents a bastardization of Gallup’s work.

Don’t editors have better uses for scarce newsroom dollars than paying to send people to cover what is no more than a fund-raiser? Apparently journalists are still suckers for anything that smacks of a political horse race no matter how invalid.

The press elevated the Iowa precinct caucuses to prominence far beyond reason. It ought to come to its senses, realize that Iowa politicians have played them for suckers and scale back coverage of the Ames stunt for what it is intrinsically worth.

Gilbert Cranberg is George H. Gallup Professor of Journalism Emeritus, the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

One Response to “Bastardizing George Gallup’s Work”

  1. d says:

    The press long ago gave up being journalists. They are only interested in covering entertaining events and a horse race has a certain entertaining excitement due to waiting for results.

    The whole Iowa circus is disgusting.

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