I hope not. But watch for it. Because the Magnolia Tribune is polling its subscribers on issues on which it is taking a position. The questions are biased and the sample is hardly random. If the purpose is to probe subscriber views, that’s their own business. If the data are presented as more than that, it will be fake news.
I used to be a professional political pollster because I care about what people are thinking and feeling. It’s important in political campaigns and in understanding public dialog. I subscribe to the Magnolia Tribune because it tends to telegraph what I believe will be the right-wing messages in Mississippi this year and it is useful to know what those are. I have learned from the Magnolia Tribune that the right will attack Medicaid expansion as not helping the poor based on biased research from states that charged recipients of Medicaid coverage a premium, with the result in those states that lower income people dropped out. More recently, I have learned they will argue that more state help for schools will force up local property taxes, which is not necessarily true, especially as in lower income districts it will result in more Title 1 federal money. Finally, I have learned they will argue that if the state spends money on its Capital City, it should be able to overrule local leadership, although I suspect people in Tishomingo County want self government despite the money the state (and feds) spend there. Mississippi has a long history of strong local and county government.
Now the Magnolia Tribune is conducting a “poll” of subscribers on these and other issues. The questions follow a paragraph arguing one side and then providing a button so subscribers can express their opinions. Nothing wrong with that if the purpose is to see if active subscribers share the editorial opinions of the Magnolia Tribune. (I don’t share them but it wont surprise me to learn that most subscribers do.) If the results are presented as a poll of public attitudes, representing a broader population than those who answered it, it will be fake news.
Polls that mirror public or voter attitudes are much harder to conduct than in the past because response rates are low. Good pollsters reach out repeatedly to try to up the rate and try extra hard to reach those who are hardest to reach – young people, people of color, and people in the political middle. They then count those they do reach from harder to reach groups extra by “upweighting” their responses. There are problems with these procedures too as I have written about in this space but at least it is an honest effort to be representative. I believe the Mississippi Today poll early this year was an honest effort, although an imperfect one. Pretending self-selected subscribers are representative of anything else is not an honest effort at a professional poll. I hope the Magnolia Tribune does not present its results as more than they are.
I haven’t seen any in depth recent polls that address the issues at hand but I suspect the following is still true: Most voters are not policy wonks. They want good schools because it is good for kids and for the Mississippi economy to have them. If only they had political leaders who go about that effort honestly. If we are all lucky, they will get them. They are apparently pretty clear they don’t have such leaders now.