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Voters, beware campaign polling.

We're coming up on the meat of the mid-term elections and you're starting to see news on polls.

There's a few things to remember when you see media reports on polling.

First off, almost all the polls in South Dakota are paid for by the candidates themselves. They only release what they want to tell you. Campaigns at the state level, particularly federal races, do a lot of polling. It’s a good tool for them to see how their messages are working, how their candidate is playing to the public, that sort of thing.

And that’s fine.

But when they get released to the public and reported as news, it’s dangerous. That’s because you just don’t know what you don’t know.

The problem in South Dakota is there is very little independent polling available. As a consumer, you are left to decipher what’s going on.

My concern when media organizations report on these polls is that, like you, they don’t know what they don’t know. Also, in many cases, the appropriate caveats aren’t included. The political context and skepticism just isn’t there.

A recent example was a story by South Dakota Public Radio on a couple polls in the race for U.S. House between Republican Dusty Johnson and Democrat Tim Bjorkman.

All due respect for my friends at SDPB but there are key details missing from their story. For one, they say who the polling firms are but they don’t say that in both cases, these firms serve their partisan interests. Public Policy Polling serves Democrats. Public Opinion Strategies serves Republicans.

It’s not that they are bad firms. If they were, they wouldn’t get hired. But they’re not in this for you. They’re in it for their political interest.

So, just beware the pollsters.

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