-- AN  ONLINE  PUBLICATION --


Note: This section features readers' responses to 
Dr. John Grohol's article in the PsychNews 3(4), 
December 1998, and a reply by the author. The original
article can be accessed at:


Dr. Grohol's comments are right on the mark. This is 
an issue I can't understand why more people don't 
realize what's going on! Media polls are a serious 
detriment to living in a democracy, reflecting
only what the pollsters want us to believe. 
Questions can be phrased in ways which can 
influence the results one way or another. This is 
nothing new, but I'm glad to read someone else 
upset by these biases.

Anna Roust


[...] What a lot of gibberish. Dr. Grohol's 
article is certainly off the mark. Without going 
into a wildly meandering, disorganized dissertation 
such as the one I have just muddled through, suffice 
it to say, polls are pretty damn good indicators. 
In general, respected professional pollsters (excluding 
those affiliated with extremist political organizations) 
endeavor to ask questions in such a way as to draw an 
accurate assessment of public opinion with respect to 
the question or questions at hand. The psychometrics
involved are not static. They are constantly refined.
The purpose for this refinement is to gain
increased accuracy.  While opinion can surely be
incorrectly colored by the way in which a question
is framed, such dishonesty in poll taking is contrary
to the mission of the pollsters, and to assume
that the pollsters regularly or willfully engage in
such skewed information gathering practices strikes
me as a somewhat paranoid perspective..

C. Kirton, D.C., D.A.C.B.R.

             WHERE ARE THE DATA?

I begin to read the piece ["A slice of media psychology:
On impeachment, the media, and polling"] by John M. 
Grohol, Psy.D. [and] I find statements such as: 

"Americans are an odd lot. We thrive on the media, 
largely television, for its entertainment and 
informational value.

When new polls are taken, the new polling finds these 
influenced opinions. An opinion snowball effect can be 
created by this regression. What is problematic is most
media's lack of insight into this phenomenon. The media 
move from simply reporting events which take place to 
trying to shape and influence their outcome."

I [...] ask: Is this writing an example of psychology,
or  is it the wanderings of a passionate observer? Where
are the data to support these statements?  What
established psychological principles does the writer
use to explain these observations?  What psychological
principles are elaborated by these speculations?

[... T]he writer [poses another version of an impeachment
question to ask in polls and] says:" That is a much more fair
question, giving a lot more information about the
consequences of the word "impeachment" in this context.

First: On what basis can the writer make the claim that
this is the more fair question.  I would like to see a
study on whether or not a question induces more
or less bias toward one or another response. I would
bet about 5,000 dollars that this question would bias
the respondent to reject impeachment.

But that is not the point of my observations. What
concerns me?  Is this psychology, or is this the effort
of the writer to propagandize about the slovenly thinking
of people who try to put together meaning our of the
arrays of information and disinformation of the people
who respond to polls.

I, for one, certainly hope that no one will come
to this material, (offered in a forum assumed to
be a reflection of the work of psychologists), then
read this material; and, from it, judge that
psychologists are some kind of scholars who do this
kind of thing. [...]

James C. Mancuso
Dept. of Psychology
University at Albany


C. Kirton misses the point. It is not whether or 
not polls reflect appropriate scientific methodologies 
and rigor (for in most cases, they do). It is whether 
or not pollsters (and the media who commission and 
report their findings) are creating their own 
media-influenced trend. It is also a question of 
whether there is any awareness among the media and 
the professional pollsters of this possible self-feeding 
relationship. Psychometrics cannot control for the 
media's focus on a particular issue, or for a certain 
media outlet's "spin" on a 1% or 2% change in the
polls numbers (a change which is usually well within 
the margin of error of these polls, which is increasingly 
not even being reported). These are legitimate areas of 

James Mancuso appears to confuse my article with a 
peer-reviewed article appearing in a scholarly journal.
PsychNews International is a newsletter, not a 
peer-reviewed journal, so we have the latitude to 
publish essays such as this one. I was offering one 
possible explanation of what appears to me to be a 
disturbing trend in polls and on the reporting of a 
poll's results by the media. These trends often 
have questionable validity.

The fact remains that the questions asked of respondents 
on complex issues are often so general and without the 
appropriate grounding in background material, any 
response is largely meaningless. While my question wasn't 
meant to be the ultimate "fair" question to put to 
respondents, it does begin to address some of the 
complexity inherent in such an emotion-laden, arcane
political term such as "impeachment." I am certain that a 
more objective question could be written. Without ensuring 
that a respondent has sufficient knowledge (and knowing 
what a particular poll defines as "sufficient knowledge") 
on the issue in question, however, polls will continue to 
be a tool increasingly misused by the media and their 
results misunderstood by the public.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Associate Editor
PsychNews International