Misleading Survey Results from One of the “Top Notch” Polling Agencies

Last week, USA Today/Gallup published the results of its December 15 – 18, 2011 public opinion poll.  At the end of every year since 1948,  with the exception of 1967 and 1976, Gallup has asked the following (among other) questions:

  1. What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most? And who is your second choice?
  2. What woman that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most? And who is your second choice?

I don’t know about you, but I was surprised by some of the concluding headlines and commentary.  USA Today headlined

Obama, Clinton top most-admired lists for 2011

Similarly, Gallup headlined the following with related text:

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton Again Top Most Admired List

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama continue to be named by Americans as the Most Admired Woman and Most Admired Man living today in any part of the world. Clinton has been the Most Admired Woman each of the last 10 years, and Obama has been the Most Admired Man four years in a row…

In its write-up of its poll results, Gallup published the following two tables displaying the top ten most admired

In sum, according to Gallup, of the top ten Most Admired men, four are government leaders, three are business leaders, and three are religious leaders.  Of the top ten Most Admired women, eight are government leaders and two are from television.  More than half of the Most Admired are politicians?  Really?  Candidly, a currently living politician doesn’t even enter into my top 50 Most Admired.   These results seemed odd to me; thus, I took a peak at the underlying questions and answers.  Interestingly, I find that I am not alone.  In fact, I am in the majority.

Below are the full results that practically all news agencies fail to publish, and even Gallup fails to advertise.   Rather, one has to search for the full results.  The following shows that 66% and 54% of poll respondents named either (i) a “Friend/Relative”, (ii) “Other”, or (iii) “None/No opinion” as the Most Admired man and woman of 2011 respectively.  To not be misleading , the poll’s concluding news headlines’ should have stated, “No One can claim to be the Most Admired person in 2011 – One in Three Poll Respondents Named No One to either the Most Admired Man or Most Admired Woman list”.

See our primer on creating and using survey  and articles on survey biases and survey pitfalls.



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