More Media Friendly Polls Reflect/Manipulate the Public Mood

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It’s been just over a month since the last “Pulse Poll” was conducted and released by the anti-union dark money organization “Eyes on 11.” This newest poll shows “residents” doubted that a new city department focused on homelessness would address the problem in a meaningful way (63-12%), massive disapproval of L.A. County’s clean needle exchange program (76-12%) and split on whether or not the future land use for the Santa Monica Airport should be Airport Park or whether it should continue to operate as an airport (38-35%).

While these results could be surprising to those that don’t pay much attention, we’ve already demonstrated that these polls are wildly unprofessional, skew to the right, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. The Santa Monica Lookout may breathlessly report on the results, but to use them as a basis to create policy would be malfeasance at best.

While we’ve been spared Pulse Polls for just over five weeks, two of Santa Monica’s other news outlets conducted polls of their readers. The Santa Monica Mirror asked readers for their opinions on outdoor dining ordinances while the Daily Press asked readers why they still live in Santa Monica.

Polls such as these can be fun. They provide snapshots of what a certain group of people think at a certain moment in time. And just as Pulse Polls shouldn’t be used to create policy, neither should these. Polling a self-selecting group of participants automatically biases a poll, and that’s true whether or not I happen to agree with the results of a poll (make outdoor dining easier!) or if I don’t (Santa Monica should be ‘more like LA’ when dealing with homelessness.)

The Mirror’s survey, which was actually a joint survey done by all seven of the publications owned by the Mirror Media Group which also includes the Palisades News and Yo Venice!, showed overwhelming support for expanding and supporting outdoor dining. In its write-up of the results, the Mirror Media Group publications showed restraint and stuck to just a couple of sentences summarizing the results of each of their three questions. A link to the hard data and exact questions was not provided in the articles.

The Daily Press’s survey is a demonstration in ‘best practices’ for a news organization to dip their toes into this sort of reporting. By asking an open-ended question and then summarizing the results (or quoting the most quotable responses), the survey and results provide fun content for daily readers. The surveys by Pulse Polls and Mirror Media Group pretend to be presenting useful data on voter/residents/”civically engaged Santa Monica Residents” can actually do harm by coloring the local conversation.

And dare I say it, the Daily Press gave Santa Monicans a small chance to reflect on the good parts of their city. So much of the political discourse seems to focus on what’s wrong about Santa Monica, and Pulse Polls are designed to capture and normalize that disenchantment. But as one respondent to the Daily Press noted, “Living here is like victory.”

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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