Daily, the public is exposed to news stories, feature articles and social sites that promote data expressed in a polling format.
The purpose of using polls is to reflect public opinion in a surveyed area of interest with an identified population.
A classic example is the Trident sugar-free gum promotion in the mid-1960s that "4 out of 5 dentists surveyed would recommend sugarless gum to their patients who chew gum."
Credibility. Persuasion. Consumer appeal.
Political marketing is barely different. Candidates will use internal polling to guide their messages, identify their best audiences, and expose weaknesses.
Vanderbilt University recently released a statewide poll commissioned by its Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The script of the "Tennessee Legislature Poll" was published by The Tennessean newspaper.
Questions included range from the approval or disapproval of President Obama, Gov. Bill Haslam, the Tennessee Legislature and U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to the manner in which Supreme Court justices are selected in our state and the mandates involved in the new federal health care law.
There were 1,002 respondents to the 44-question landline and cell phone poll.
The poll has been cited in articles with these headlines: "Obama Closes Gap with Romney," "New Vanderbilt University Poll Shows Obama in Dead Heat with Romney," and "Obama Down Just One Point ... in Tennessee," among others, to promote a close election and an obvious change in Obama's standing in a state known for its lean to the center right.
Yet, on close examination, a full 25 percent of those surveyed were not registered to vote. Among those registered to vote, the reported one-point margin between the incumbent Democrat and Republican challenger Mitt Romney disappears. Romney's poll support was 47 percent among registered voters, with President Obama garnering the support of 40 percent of those surveyed.
Polling is a tool. That a leading institution of higher learning would promote a project with political implications focused on elections based on a faulty premise from the onset is disappointing.
The Trident gum commercial was effective based on the perceived credibility of the surveyed audience: dentists. Vanderbilt University easily could have selected 1,002 registered voters to offer clear results to match its questions' topics.
Mark Twain's quote, "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics" can be edited to include polling using with such a practice. Let buyers, and voters, beware.