So far, we've explored the fact that, based upon the overall survey of Protestants, the Lifeway report includes with regard to Southern Baptists solely the category (pastors) most likely to yield the desired high number of PPL-endorsers. As a result, the one question that the report cannot answer is "What do Southern Baptists believe about PPL?" We've also explored the evidence that Lifeway Research conducted this research amidst exclusive coordination with pro-PPL bloggers—that, honest, honorable, and faithful people that they are notwithstanding, the folks at Lifeway Research appear to have more friendly connections with pro-PPL than anti-PPL folks in the SBC. The first factor could easily have been remedied by taking some more time and incorporating an actual survey of Southern Baptists—an unlimited general survey of Southern Baptist pastors and laity alike. But Lifeway Research did not take additional time. The time of publication is also an important component of factor two, since coordination of the report's release with pro-PPL bloggers appears to have been a part of the communication between Lifeway Research and bloggers. What is the timing of the report? On the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in San Antonio. I can imagine an innocent, non-partisan reason for this timing: The report is going to generate a lot more interest if released right now as opposed to September. If Lifeway Research wants to grab headlines and generate interest in their work, then releasing this report at this particular time is just the way to do it. That's one reason why an honest researcher might have chosen to release this report on the eve of the convention. Of course, for the political machine that has been at work throughout the past year, the timing could not have been better if made-to-order. As for my thoughts, the presidential elections of 2000 & 2004 come to mind. Networks came under fire for the practice of using exit polls to declare (wrongly) the results of the presidential election in key states while voting was still underway on the West Coast. For some reason, exit poll errors seem to occur in the favor of Democrats. The more conspiracy-minded among us suggest a concerted effort by networks and pollsters to skew the election. Not me. I acknowledge that the exit polls have recently tended to err in favor of Democrats when they err, but the reasons are likely related either to subtle, inadvertent bias on the part of the researchers or to the fact that human behavior and opinion are difficult to survey with great precision. Also, to borrow from our physicist friends, one must consider the observer effect—when you point a camera at it, it changes. People have this strange habit of sometimes saying what they believe will make a pollster approve of them as people. These are explanations more likely than deliberate political conspiracy, in my opinion. Nevertheless, even though I do not believe that the networks and Voter News Service are engaged in a political conspiracy, I support the severe limitation of the use of exit polls during national elections. Why?
- Because the polls themselves affect the outcome of the election when results are released before voting is complete.
- When the stakes are that high, the inaccuracies of the method cease to become an academic footnote and become very, very important. The egg on the networks' faces amply demonstrates that such polls are not reliable enough to be allowed to play such an important role.